— 7:37 a.m.
A Ghost Story...Boo!!
Here is a short story that I wrote in early 1992 while I was in the Navy. To date, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.
While I was visiting my family over the 4th of July weekend, I read this story to my family at their request, and when I got near the end I got all choked up. I had to pause my reading for a sec so that I didn’t explode into tears! Pathetic. I apologized and held up my finger to indicate that I needed a second. I think it was my Mom who said then: “It’s OK.” Then I said, “No, it’s not OK! I wrote this; I know what’s going to happen!” What a wuss.
This story was inspired directly from a dream that I’d had on my ship, the U.S.S. Orion, AS-18. It was in the morning, right before I woke up completely. My rack (bed) was the fourth one up-it was about 9 feet off of the deck. I was still asleep, but very close to awakening, as I mentioned. I heard a voice whisper something in my ear; I heard it as clear as day. After the words had been ‘spoken’ to me, my mind extrapolated that thought into a very quick dream (nothing to do with this storyline, though), and I began writing this story the same day.
What did the voice say? It’s the first line in the story…
By Tim Stough
“If you pass through them, they’ll be able to see you.”
This was the first thing that I heard after being aware that my car was hurtling towards the surface of the lake. I’d been to the 7-eleven on Orson Road to get a pack of cigarettes and some beer. Funny, I didn’t want to drink Lake Gypsy.
Groggily, I noticed some noise in the background. ‘Oh, good.’ I thought, ‘That must be the paramedics.’ I opened my eyes and started to sit up, finally noticing where I ended up. I was on the east shore of the lake, watching an enormous tow truck pull my ’69 Mustang from the water. Just as I was wondering whether or not it could be salvaged, I saw that someone was sitting in the driver’s seat. It was me.
“What the hell’s going on?” I asked aloud, without realizing it.
“Haven’t you been listening to me?” an impatient voice asked from somewhere behind me. I turned to locate the speaker, and found him sitting on a rock a few feet away.
“Are you deaf as well as dead, man?” He snapped.
“I’m dead?” I asked incredulously.
“Well, I certainly hope so, ‘cause I’ve no business speaking to the living. I get this strange feeling though that I’ve been talking to myself.”
* * *
I sat aghast as my guide, who had 73 years earlier been a man named Jeffrey Parkin, explained a few things to me – regardless of whether or not I wanted to hear them. I was perfectly content feeling sorry for myself, but he would have none of it.
I was dead. Somehow, that was a little difficult for me to accept. I was also a ghost, which didn’t really make my day either. I could not be seen or heard by living people, and I couldn’t touch anything material. Even the term ‘sitting’ was technically incorrect. I was, in essence, floating on things. It just looked as though my butt was resting on the seat. It’s a matter of positioning, you see.
Believe me, I had plenty of questions:
· Why didn’t my whole life pass before my eyes?
· Where was the light at the end of the tunnel?
· What happened to Heaven and Hell?
· What about Purgatory?
· The Nether World?
· The River Styx and Charon the ferryman?
· The Happy Hunting Grounds?
Well, Jeff didn’t have any answers for me, just a lot of guidelines, rules, do’s, and don’ts.
I didn’t need to eat or drink, bathe, or relieve myself, I couldn’t go inside a church, nor could I haunt someone’s house, not that I would anyway, but at least I wasn’t limited to one place! That happened to some of us; we get trapped inside the immediate vicinity of our death. Of course, I was glad this hadn’t happened to me, especially with the type of death that I had. I suppose since it was accidental, (relatively) non-violent, wasn’t pre-meditated, and no one else was involved, I didn’t get stuck. Honestly though, even Jeff didn’t know everything about why it happened.
Jeff later told me that in order to be a guide, I would have to be dead for a certain amount of time. Up to 30 years in some cases, but it depended on the situation. I asked him why the guides were even around, why they went to all the trouble. He just looked at me for a minute, then said: “Even the afterlife has its etiquette, boy.”
* * *
The funeral. Wow. You want to talk about depressing? I’d always hated funerals anyway, but I’ll tell you what, you really don’t want to go to your own. My girlfriend was there, of course, my family was there, my coworkers, my drinking buddies, my bowling buddies, and even my seventh grade English teacher.
I think that was the point when it really hit me. Hard. Oh, I don’t mean the dead part; I’d come to grips with that in the days since the accident. It was the feeling of helplessness that was tearing me apart. There was nothing I could do to comfort any of these people.
I wasn’t really worried about my family, I’d lost touch with them years before and we’d never really been close anyway. Janice, on the other hand, she was another story.
Jan and I had been together for nearly ten years; I really loved her. During our relationship, whenever she’d been upset to the point of tears, which was far too often I might add, I’d reach out and catch one of her tears in my hand. I’d rub the tear around in my palm and say some hocus-pocus silliness to try and cheer her up. I was standing beside her at the funeral and out of habit I reached for a falling tear. When I watched that tear of grief for me fall through my palm, it was too much.
The graveside ceremony ended, but Jan didn’t leave until they started to lower my body into the ground. I just stood there as Linda and Jim, some friends of ours (now hers), helped Jan away from the grave. She was looking at the coffin through her wet and blood shot eyes and reaching out her hand, as though for one last touch. I don’t think you can imagine how I was feeling just then. Jan turned away to cry on Linda’s should as Jim just stood by, trying his damnedest to be strong, for Jan’s sake, but I could see the wet streaks on his face too.
“Come on,” Jeff said sympathetically. “Let’s get out of here.”
* * *
“It is not recommended, but it is possible for you to move material objects. The catch is, they must need to be moved. What I mean is, every shred of your ethereal being must believe that it is necessary for that certain object’s location to be changed.”
“What about poltergeists?” I asked Jeff. “They throw things around like there’s no tomorrow. Are you telling me that they also need this outrageous force of will to do that?”
“First of all, Tom, you’re not a poltergeist. The reason why poltergeists are so strong is…well; actually there are a few reasons. The first is that they are caged spirits – trapped in one area forever. For obvious reasons, this tends to bring out some very strong emotions like: anger, sadness, frustration, anyway, you get the idea. Now add to this the fact that the poltergeists, in life, were people prone to unmatched fits of pure, boiling rage. Many are the spirits of the criminally insane as well, and this combination can be pretty volatile. All those emotions flowing together sort of take over the will of the spirit, leaving it capable of almost anything. Anything, that is, except the power to free itself.
Not all trapped spirits are poltergeists, however. Some of these fettered ghosts were victims of violent murders or died under unusual circumstances; they’re innocents. Those, they really got the short end of the stick.
* * *
Days of depression.
Although I was no longer alive in any clinical sense, I was still aware. I could still feel, I could still think, and thinking about Janice, I was hurting. I hate to make a silly pun, but I was suffering from post-mortem depression. I didn’t realize that being dead could feel so terrible. It was supposed to be the end of your troubles, wasn’t it? I used to think so.
Early in our relationship Jan and I used to, on occasion, go to this deserted old shack way up in the mountains. I think it was a trapper’s cabin back in the day. In fact, it was the first place we ever made love. We packed up some blankets, some drinks, some hormones, and then drove the 30 or so miles up to the cabin. She’d been twenty for about three days. As for me, I was well on my way to my 23rd birthday. Ah, we were just kids. How it hurt to be dead.
Somehow in my aimless wanderings I ended up back at my grave. I really would have loved to get screaming drunk at that point, but unfortunately for me, no one had invented ghost booze yet. Maybe I should look into it. Spirit spirits.
My grave really wasn’t all that nice. It was on a small hill with an ugly view, in an almost deserted corner of the cemetery. Occupied plots in these parts were about as plentiful as yuppies in Mississippi. I closed my eyes for a time and just…thought. It didn’t help.
Suddenly I was having a very bad feeling. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, and it would have passed through it anyway. I was just irrationally distressed. I looked around and my eyes moved across the blank tombstone next to my own. Just for a moment, I’d have sworn that I saw Jan’s name on it. Anxiety and worry filled my mind.
I summoned Jeff, a little trick I’d learned a few days before, and waited for him to appear. He popped in a moment later.
“What is it, Tom? How come you sound so concerned?”
“How did you know I’d be dead?” I asked quickly.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play games with me Jeff, not now. You were right there when I died, maybe even before. How did you know? Who told you it was going to happen? How did you get assigned to be my guide, or even that I would need one?” If I’d still had lungs, I would have been breathless.
“Come on,” he answered in a subdued voice. “I’ll show you.”
* * *
The place was in the foothills on the west side of town. It was a smallish, gray building that looked almost like a tomb. How appropriate.
“I never knew this was here,” I told Jeff as we approached the door.
“Of course not,” he said wryly. “Living people can’t see it, and you’re not even supposed to know about it yet.”
“Why not?” I inquired.
“Because,” he began, “you haven’t been dead long enough. “Some part of you still feels like you belong down there with them.” He said, jabbing a finger in the direction of the town. “After normally about 10 years or so, the attachment is gone. At least, that’s what they say.”
“They?” I asked. “Who’s ‘they’?”
In response, he just looked at me and pointed in an upward direction.
We stepped inside and I realized at once that the inside of the structure was much larger than the outside. Neat trick, that.
The rear of the room contained an ornately carved marble pedestal, and on it rested the largest book I had ever seen. Yep, it was a tome in a tomb. As we approached the pedestal, Jeff stepped quickly ahead and flipped back a few pages in the book.
Locating what he was looking for, he pointed to a line on the page. “See Tom, it’s right here,” he explained, underlining the words with his finger. “When you died, where, and who you were. Are you satisfied? Can we go now?” he asked agitatedly.
I reached for the book to look for a clue, be he stepped in front of me spreading his arms. “Stop! I told you that you are forbidden to read this book; you’re not ready.”
“You’re right,” I admitted. “I’m sorry,” I said with downcast eyes as I turned to leave. Satisfied, Jeff started to turn also. He didn’t see me coming until after I’d thrown him across the room. I went to the book and thumbed several pages in the opposite direction. I stopped cold at what I saw. Jan’s name was right there, about mid-page. “No! She’s going to die today!”
“Stop!” Jeff yelled. “You cannot interfere!” But I was already on my way out.
* * *
I went to a familiar place, however I did not take a familiar route. Using the speed I had as a ghost, I was there in a few seconds. Her beat-up Aries ‘K’ car was right out in front of the cabin. I entered through the nearest wall to find Janice sitting on the dirty, aged floor. Right where we’d made love years before. Tears were streaming down her dirt-smudged face.
In her left hand she clutched a half-finished bottle of Southern Comfort. It was one of the few hard drinks she liked, but only because of its sweetness. I also noticed a second, empty bottle lying on the floor behind her. As I watched, she staggered over to the rotting counter where she’d left her purse, and rummaged through it until she removed a plastic bottle; the kind that prescription drugs come in. The label identified the contents as Valium. She fumbled with the childproof cap for a moment, and clumsily opened the bottle, spilling part of its yellow contents on the counter. She started to gather up the pills but right then something in me snapped; I had to act.
I gathered every last bit of my will then in a single blast I sent the Valiums, all of them, and the whiskey across the room and out of the long-broken window. I didn’t think I had that much strength. Jan took a startled look around, eyes suddenly wide. As she turned toward where I was standing, I stepped into her.
Feelings of sorrow and confusion overwhelmed me for a moment as our separate and disparate planes of consciousness came together. I felt her pain, her loss, and she felt my helplessness as our emotions attuned themselves. I continued through her and I heard her sharp intake of breath as the chill of possession passed. She was still shuddering and trying to catch her breath, surely wondering what the hell was going on, when she raised her head and looked directly at me in my ghostly form.
Her jaw trembled and her brown eyes, red and wet with tears, just stared at me. The pain was so intense; I’ve never felt anything like it. At that moment, even though I was dead, our emotions were more aligned than they had ever been. We understood each other, maybe for the first time. We stood and stared at one another, both of us all at once torn open and relieved.
“Tommy,” she murmured.
I nodded, knowing that she wouldn’t have heard me if I’d spoken.
In the dust on the counter behind her, I once again gathered my will. Using my finger as a pencil I pushed the dust aside to write: “I’m still with you Jan.” Then, because she could still see me, I backed out of the room while she was distracted.
She looked at the words for a long time, slowly tracing the letters with her fingers. After a while she looked around, saw that I was gone, and with her head in her arms cried until the dust, and the grief, were washed away.