Saturday, June 11, 2005

"Ghost Hunter" - A SHORT STORY

For regular readers of my blog, you already know about the writing group I am a part of. And for those of you who are new, I'll sum up. My friends and I gather every few weeks to give one another a 5-10 page writing assignment. All of the stories must contain certain elements, and this time around our stories had to include: a johnny carson impersonator, a coconut, a monkey cage, and the line "I never thought I'd see something like that when I woke up this morning." this time around we also drew genres out of a hat, and the one I drew was horror. This is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it. I'll be back with my next short story in about 3 weeks!

Inside the house Jack swept his flashlight back and forth across the room. The dust swirled around in a misty haze and the boards creaked beneath his feet with every step.

He checked the monitor at his side. Two green lights, just the way it should be. Three green lights was also acceptable. Four was iffy, five was watch your back, and when the red light turned on it meant to make sure everything is on RECORD and get ready to run at the drop of a hat.

The house had been abandoned for 18 years but it looked like it had been longer than that since any visitors had dropped by. Most of the rooms were empty with a random wooden chair here, a small table there, or an old crate with a sheet thrown over it lurking in the corner. Everything was covered with a layer of fine dust and the prints left behind by Jack’s Timberlands were like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs that would lead back out of the forest.

Jack closed the front door and it slammed shut harder than he had intended. He paused, waiting for the sound of bats flapping their wings in response and the feel of their sharp teeth and claws in his hair. Nothing. Jack cursed at himself for letting his imagination get the best of him. He waited a second or two and took a cautious step. Just before his heel hit the floorboard he heard a definite THUMP from somewhere above him.

He froze and listened.

Jack knew he was violating the first rule of ghost hunting: never go alone. Not that ghost hunters feared evil spirits attacking and killing an innocent investigator like one might see in a Wes Craven movie but because it was just safe common sense. A lot of ghost hunting is done in old abandoned locations. If you take a wrong step and a floor or staircase gives way, you’ve got someone there to lend you a hand.

Somewhere above him Jack heard the squeak of an old board. He froze and waited, but heard nothing else. The house settling; a cat creeping around…there were a million possibilities and there was no need to get nervous. A creak in an old house is as common as a Bible in a church sanctuary.

Jack checked his EMF Recorder. EMFs (electro magnetic fields) are released by a number of common items: a television or power lines to name a couple. Many ghost hunters believe that spirits and entities also give off EMFs. It’s a highly debated theory in the world of the unexplained, but Jack always had good luck. Whenever all four green lights were on, he had gotten some amazing pictures of orbs and swirling mists. He’d only seen the red light come on once in his career and before he could get his camera positioned and readied he’d felt something reach out from the darkness, grab the Nikon, and smash it to the ground. Jack had tried to run but felt two strong arms push him into a wall. After a few minutes Jack’s screams brought his assistant Mitch running from the other end of the warehouse they were investigating. By the time the young apprentice had arrived it was over.

Jack was about to ask Mitch why he hadn’t come sooner, but he found his answer before he could say anything. On Mitch’s head were a pair of earmuffs so big they looked like someone had cut a coconut in half and glued them to the sides of Mitch’s head.

“What are you doing wearing those? No wonder you couldn’t hear me screaming,” Jack chastised him.

“I’m trying to hear EVPs,” Mitch answered.

“Then why aren’t you wearing the electronic voice phenomena headset?” Jack could tell by the look on Mitch’s face that he didn’t have a clue. “You grabbed earmuffs out of the van by mistake you stupid son of a bitch.”

Still replaying the moment in his head, Jack aimed his flashlight at the rickety staircase before him and began his upward ascent. He made his way up two steps and paused. The sound of his feet on the old wooden stairs didn’t seem right. He listened. He could have sworn he heard footfalls coming from somewhere above him but attributed the phenomenon to his ears not yet being accustomed to this strange place. Sometimes in these old houses the echo of your own feet made it sound like the staircase wound into an endless eternity above you and sometimes, like tonight, it sounded like you had a visitor walking around up there. If Mitch were here, Jack might be able to get a second opinion.

But of course Mitch was late as usual. Jack grumbled under his breath and promised himself to put an ad in the paper tomorrow in search of a new intern.

Although Mitch had been excited to come to the hunt tonight, he had also been very nervous. Mitch had been on twelve hunts with Jack before, but this afternoon he had seemed just as antsy and jumpy as we was on hunt #1. Jack had to admit he was surprised Mitch had lasted with the company this long. But if he had, where was he now?


Jack heard the soft whispering echo through the house. Or perhaps it was only an echo in his mind. Surely he didn’t hear it correctly. After all, what kind of ghost would chant Mitch’s name? There were definitely scarier things one could choose to moan in the dark. Regardless, Jack had to focus. Who knew if and when Mitch might show up, but Jack didn’t like waiting.

“Yoo hoooo,” Jack called out, smiling at his own foolishness. He was just glad Mitch wasn’t around to hear him make such an un-manly call. After a few seconds his “yoo-hoo” came back to him in a perfect echo. Just the way it should.

Jack heard a sound like someone walking on the landing above and heard the faint blip of the EMF recorder at his side as the display went from two green lights to three. Nothing to worry about yet but Jack anticipated feeling a cold rush of wind sweep past at any moment.

Jack reached the top of the stairs. He was greeted by a long hallway. There were two doors on the left-hand side and the corridor dead-ended into a third and final doorway. On his right was a wooden handrail that looked out over the floor below.

Jack started with the first door on the left (“Always go left”) and it was just as he had expected: the bathroom. The fixtures had been removed and all that remained as evidence of where the sink, bathtub and toilet had resided were pipes sticking out of the floor. Jack crept over to what had been the toilet drainpipe. Something was sticking out of the end and Jack hoped to God it wasn’t what he thought it was. As he got closer his nose told him this was not his lucky day.

There, sticking out of the pipe, was a turd. A human turd. Someone had actually taken the time to relieve themselves and then carefully place the turd into the pipe. Jack looked around the floor and saw no trace of toilet paper, tissue, newspaper, or even rubber gloves. Someone had done this either with their bare hands or by simply squatting above the pipe and slipping the turd right in. Jack never ceased to be amazed by what kids will dare each other to do during a full moon. That had to be the only explanation. Not even a spirit from the other side of the netherworld would be this foul.

“Well,” Jack muttered, “I never thought I’d see something like that when I woke up this morning.”

From out in the hall Jack heard what sounded like a broom being dropped to the floor. The thin THWACK sound made Jack jump and reminded him of what he was here to do.

If the stories about this house were to be believed, then there was something in the house that was bad. It wasn’t the ghost of a Civil War general or a woman who died in childbirth or a young boy who was kept in the cellar locked in a monkey cage. Whatever was supposedly alive in this house was nothing more than pure evil.

Jack left the bathroom and cautiously made his way down the hall. He kept a close eye on the floor but couldn’t find the source of the noise that had just sent his heart racing.

He came to the second door and it let out a loud creak as it opened, the hinges screaming for just a drop of oil.

Inside was what had once been the master bedroom. There were large windows overlooking the property on three sides but the dust that was caked on them made it appear the house was engulfed in a sinister fog.

In the middle of the room stood a tall wooden post that stretched from ceiling to floor. It was perhaps two inches in diameter, not nearly large enough to be a load-bearing structure. Jack approached to investigate, oblivious to the fourth green light on the EMF Recorder that had blinked to life. Besides this mysterious find the room was empty.

He grabbed the wooden pole that had been bolted down years ago. He jiggled it and found it was loose. As he shook it small fragments of plaster drifted down. Jack coughed. His hand came across a cold metal outcropping on the post that was sharp to the touch. He brought his flashlight closer to investigate.

A coat rack? It couldn’t be, but there seemed to be no other explanation. The jagged pieces of metal appeared to be the individual coat hooks that had obviously snapped off years ago. How odd that someone would install such a fixture but Jack assumed the bed was probably placed nearby at one point, and there’s never accounting for personal taste. In his mind’s eye he could see a bright pink bathrobe with matching fuzzy trim around the neck and sleeves hanging from one of the hooks. It was joined by a long velvety Merlot-colored robe dangling from another.
The EMF Recorder made a small BEEP as the red light sprang to life. “Holy shit,” Jack said, snapping out of his daydream. He hadn’t realized how cold he was. He could feel every individual hair on his arm raised so high they seemed like they would shoot out of his skin. He exhaled and could see his breath wafting in front of him. He looked around at the picture windows and realized it wasn’t dust that was obstructing his view outside but ice had formed on the inside of the glass panes.

Before he could begin to make sense of any of it all Jack heard a creak behind him. Right behind him. Jack didn’t have time to turn around when he felt a cold heavy hand slap down on his right shoulder.

“Ouch,” Jack said without realizing. It wasn’t an exclamation in response to the hand’s powerful grip but because of the extreme cold it spread through him.

Jack was spun around and came face to face with a terrible darkness. The Shape let out a horrible scream that shook Jack’s being and he shrieked in response. Jack took a step backward and stumbled against the coat rack. His full weight was no match for the pole and it ripped loose from its constraints. Bits of plaster and dust showered down upon him as Jack fell backward. He felt the pole beneath his back as his head hit the floor hard.

Jack’s only thought was The Shape that had grabbed him and where it was at the moment. All he saw was the flare of a bright flash of light.

Then, as quickly as it came, the light was gone. He continued to lay there and everything around him grew silent.

After a short time Jack slowly got to his feet, opened his eyes and immediately regretted it. The dust hadn’t finished settling and it coated his eyeballs with a grainy haze. Jack squeezed his eyes shut and began to rub even though his better sense told him not to. After a few seconds of rapid blinking most of the remnants were gone.

Jack brushed himself off and his confusion was rapidly replaced by fear. What had he heard? What had he felt? And was it still here?

He frantically searched for his flashlight amid the rubble. He found it partially hidden under a large shard of plaster and clicked it on. Nothing. Jack slapped the side of the flashlight, creating a small cloud of dust. The faint tinkling sound from within the housing of the bulb told him that it was no use.

He turned and surveyed his surroundings. His eyes had become adjusted to the darkness and he was able to see the hazy outline of the room. Outside of the house in the distance, far below him, he heard the sound of a car door slam.

On his way over to the window Jack’s foot kicked something small and solid. He reached down and picked up his EMF recorder. None of the display lights were blinking. He jostled the recorder a bit and nothing happened. He flipped it off, turned it over, found the battery case panel, and removed it. He shook the batteries out and he felt a crusty film on his fingers. The batteries were starting to corrode. Jack was infuriated. He had specifically asked Mitch to check the batteries in all of the equipment, especially the EMF Recorder since it had been on the shelf for some time.

He managed to replace the batteries and the panel cover and switched the machine back on. This time all four green lights lit up as well as the red light. This usually indicated extreme electromagnetic activity, but Jack knew that this time it meant that the machine had been extremely dropped. He jostled the unit again but the lights did not waver. He flipped it off and stood still. No cold spots. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck was completely relaxed. Somewhere he thought he heard the sound of a door closing.

Jack turned the EMF Recorder on once again and, once again, all of the lights lit up. Jack was enraged. At Mitch, at the machine, at himself. He threw the recorder back onto the floor and muttered, “Fuck it.” It clunked on the boards and came to rest, its lights still insisting that something was afoot.

Jack made his way to the window, a board groaning its distaste in being trod upon along the way. The ice that seemed to cover the window just moments earlier was again just a small film of dust. With his coat sleeved he rubbed clean a small circle on the window and peered to the ground below. He saw his car alone, abandoned, and basking in the moonlight. The car door he had heard sounded like his own but he saw no movement below.

There was only one other room on this floor and even though he no longer had his flashlight and EMF recorder, he decided it would be a waste of time to not investigate. If he found something, he wouldn’t be able to record it but at least he’d have an idea where he should start the next time he was around.

He made his way out of the room, started down the hall and paused. Footsteps. And this time he was sure it wasn’t an echo. In an old house with wood floors and no furniture or carpeting to absorb the sound, you could never quite ascertain where a noise originated from but it sounded like it came from below.

Mitch must be here. It had to be Mitch. Perhaps he had decided not to brave the rickety bridge at the edge of the property and parked his car at the bottom of the hill, walking up the rest of the way. He had opened Jack’s car door, saw he wasn’t in there, and then made his way into the house. That would explain his own car door slamming, the sound of the front door closing, and the footsteps below. That was Mitch. He may be late, but he always showed.

“Mitch?” Jack called out and heard his own voice reverberate its way down the stairs. “Mitch?”

Jack stood still and listened. From below he heard a faint “Yoo hoooo.” And it sounded just like him.

That bastard Mitch was downstairs and now he was trying to be funny. Jack wondered how long Mitch had actually been here, watching him. Even though a Ghost Hunt wasn’t the place to fool around Jack loved a good joke as much as the next guy so again he called out “Yoo hoooo” followed by a much quieter “Bastard.”

Jack had to admit Mitch’s “Yoo-hoo” sounded a lot like him. Mitch was always doing voices and it usually got old, like a bad Johnny Carson impersonator that doesn’t know when to stop.
He’d never heard Mitch’s “Jack” impersonation but he was sure the other guys had – and probably laughed their asses off. He wouldn’t be surprised if they had put Mitch up to this but he was about to show Mitch who was the student and who was the teacher. His EMF recorder was no longer working so it wasn’t really like he had anything to lose.

Jack heard Mitch below making his way up the steps and quickly darted into the room at the end of the hall in waiting. When Mitch went into the master bedroom to investigate he would find that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.

Jack made his way into the far room. There was no door, just three lone hinges on the jamb with nothing to latch onto. Jack flattened himself against the wall inside and slowly poked his head around the door frame to sneak a peek into the hall. He looked just in time to see Mitch’s dark silhouette approach the restroom. Mitch was going into the rooms as Jack had gone into them. Always go left. Otherwise you might inadvertently skip a room. “Always go left” was the rule of thumb. Start with the first door on your left, check it out, leave the room, go left, and check out the next room you come to. No stone unturned. And Mitch had gone left. Just like Jack did. Just like Jack taught him.

“Atta boy, Mitch,” Jack said, “You’re starting to redeem yourself.” Jack knew Mitch would head to the master bedroom next because that was the next door on the left and that’s when Jack would sneak up behind him and show him how to really scare someone. Jack watched the lights on Mitch’s EMF machine disappear into the bathroom doorway.

Jack waited for Mitch to inspect the wash room. “Please don’t let him touch that mystery turd with his bare hands,” he thought to himself. A quick look around and Jack ascertained there was nothing much in this room, most likely the spare bedroom. The only thing here was a large picture frame hanging on the wall against which Jack was standing.

The frame was made of thin wood, probably pine. There was no canvas stretched over it. The fact that it was just an empty frame made it just as interesting (if not, more) to ponder than if there were an actual picture inside.

Jack touched the frame gently and as soon as he did the piece of wood on the bottom portion fell to the floor. Jack froze. He didn’t want to give his position away to Mitch and ruin the joke. Hopefully Mitch would think the noise came from the hall or even perhaps downstairs.
Jack remained in hiding as he heard Mitch leave the bathroom. He listened as Mitch slowly made his way into the master bedroom. He heard the slow creak of the door opening and Jack realized he didn’t recall ever shutting it. Again Jack peeked into the hall. He could see the shadows being thrown around from the beam of Mitch’s flashlight inside the bedroom and Jack silently slinked down the hall. He crept to the open doorway and stole a look. What the hell was Mitch doing?

Mitch had his back to the door and was obviously trying to reposition the coat rack that Jack had broken loose. As Jack continued to approach Mitch from behind he saw Mitch had actually fixed the coat rack. But that was impossible. His eyes were playing tricks on him. But the wooden post was once again bolted to the floor and ceiling and the plaster above was unmolested.

Obviously when Jack had taken his tumble he hadn’t brought the pole crashing down with him as he had thought. It had all happened so quickly some of the details were bound to get a little twisted around like a victim of a car crash trying to recount the incident.

Jack was now close enough to touch Mitch, and Mitch was none the wiser. “Someone’s going to have to work on their observational skills,” Jack thought to himself. He reached out his hand to give Mitch the scare of a lifetime. With his final footstep the floorboard let out a long squeak. Before Mitch could react Jack grabbed him on the shoulder. Why was Mitch so warm?

“Ouch,” Mitch mumbled, and something about it puzzled Jack.

Jack spun Mitch around and realized it wasn’t Mitch at all. He had been sneaking up on himself. Jack looked deep into the eyes of someone (himself!) about to die and screamed at the top of his lungs.

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