Friday, October 07, 2005

Just in Time For
Weekend Slumber Parties

As promised, here is the first installment of Ghost Story Friday here at WLPF. Fiction isn't my forte, but then again, who's saying any of this is fiction?



Static Thing

Rex Stephens had let too many grand ideas and seed sentences get steamrolled under grocery lists and interruptions. Although he knew better, he’d concentrate hard on a good line or a vivid scene, thinking, “This is so great, I can remember it without writing it down.” But he always forgot. By now, he’d forgotten a novel’s worth of dialogue, story titles, character names, and setting details. Rex bought a voice-activated hand-held recorder, vowing to never again to squander little gems gifted to him by his muse.

His new toy became a battery powered appendage—Rex never went anywhere without it. He even considered buying a second recorder to leave in his car, but decided that a second recorder—an upgraded model—would be a reward for selling some of his writing. He wanted the first gadget to pay off.

Rex’s best ideas usually rained down on him early in the morning, or sometimes late at night.
Inserting a fresh microcasette into the deck, he’d try leaving it on overnight, next to his pillow, to capture impressions from dreams or maybe some brilliant Cayce-like sleep-talking.

“Batteries…check. Tape inserted-side A up…check, Record ,play on…check. Testing one, two, three.”

Rex rewound and listened to his muffled voice talk back. Other than the volume needing turning up a notch or two, “all systems were go,” Rex declared.

Over a late breakfast the next morning, Rex discovered that he snores. That’s all he got—intermittent snoring, and then his radio alarm clock. He’d try again.

Waking with a start, the writer glanced at the glowing orange numbers on his digital radio alarm clock. “2:30. It’s two-frickin’-thirty. What the hell was I dreaming about?” Rex couldn’t remember the particulars, but it felt like he had been running from somebody or something.

He grabbed the recorder. “Just woke up from a bad dream…all I remember is being afraid, being chased, some horrible thing breathing down on my neck. Even though I’m awake now, I keep looking over my shoulder. I can’t seem to shake the sensation of being pursued.”

Rex sighed, collapsed back into his pillow, and fell asleep.

“This is incredible!” Staccato keyboard clicking punctuated by occasional sighs, swearing, and sipping hot, black coffee. “It’s violent, and heartbreaking, and even sickening. I think I can sell this.” Rex was onto something, something big:

Everyone got out of the house except 15-year-old Peter. Too infirm to race down two flights of stairs, Peter leaned out of his window, coughing, waving to the neighbors to send help. Flames dissolved the old Victorian home, beam by beam, room by room, gaining on young Peter. Jumping was the only way out, but his fear of heights paralyzed the doomed teenager, who’s bed clothes blackened with soot and smoke.

Rex’s fingers could barely keep up with his racing heart as Peter’s tragedy took shape on the monitor.
“Yeah, they’re going to eat this shit up.” Control, Save. Rex bounded to the kitchen for a coffee refill. He didn’t sleep that night, but managed to pry himself away from the computer to sit in the living room, filling both sides of a cassette with scenes and background for his conflagration piece.

“Why didn’t anyone help him? Why didn't his mother and father, knowing they’re son was too sick to escape the fire, make any attempt to get him down the stairs?” The more Rex wondered about Peter’s family, the more agitated he became. Hours later, Rex wilted from adrenal burn out, falling asleep on the sofa.

Listening to his fiction-incited tirade from the night before, Rex stopped the recorder, rewound a short space, pressed play, and held the speaker close to his ear. “I don’t believe it.” He played it again, turning the volume up. “What is that?” His eyes narrowed, his focus, acute. His tape played back static, snoring, and what sounded like carpet muffled footsteps, light percussive steps increasing in volume as they seemed to get closer to the microphone. Then for not more than two seconds, something sibilant rose above the static, a whispering sound, smirking, then footsteps walking away.

“Holy Shit. No more coffee after 4;00 in the afternoon.” Rex thought he may have picked up a TV or radio broadcast. And when the same whispering and smirking turned up night after night, Rex thought he needed a better brand of cassette tape. Satisfied that the gold brand was better than the red brand, Rex pulled his covers over him, placing his recorder away from his pillow and comforter—careful not to pick up any rustling.

Checking off the list in his head—doors locked, windows shut, bedroom door booby trapped with tinkly chimes—he could close his eyes, and fall into the land of Nod.

A chill roused Rex from a sound sleep—white curtains billowed like sails over a black ocean. He froze—not breathing, not moving, retracing each step of his nighttime routine—certainly, of all the windows in the house, he didn’t forget to close his bedroom window. His eyes still adjusting to the dark, a faint tinkling sound startled Rex, making the room a little colder.
“Who’s there?” Rex’s voice quivered. “Wh—who’s there?”

“OK, there’s nothing here. I just forgot to close the window.” Rex reached up from his bed and slammed the window shut, then rubbed his arms to get warm. “Hell, I can’t go to sleep now.” He should be working on his story, but thought it better to soothe his nerves with some Bukowski instead.

Several pages into Last Night of the Earth Poems, Rex, emboldened by a brightly lit room and the uneventful minutes since waking, palmed the little silver machine and pressed play. Rustling covers and throat clearing punctuated long spells of static. Turning the volume up, the tape caught the tinkling chimes…Rex stopped the playback.

Then started it again. Chimes clanged against the door, and footsteps shuffled into the room. Rex turned the recorder off again, and looked at his bedroom window to make sure it was closed. He got up and pressed it down, to make doubly sure. “There’s nothing on the tape. There’s nothing in this room. There’s nothing in this house.” He pressed play again.

Rex heard whispering as the tape resumed. It sounded like a Sha, or Cha, or Jzha. “That sounds like a word…” Rewound, he listened closely…” Sha, sha, Ja, Ja. He couldn’t make it out, so he let the tape play on. Jaaa… Jaaaa. Jaaaa…the sound became clearer, more distinct. “Jaa, Johnny?” Rex wondered, playing word games in his head. “Jolly, Jackie, Jaaa, what?”

The tape rolled on, capturing the footsteps departing the room, then the tape ran out, clicked loudly startling Rex, and in that instant the lights went out, his window flew open and a loud voice behind him screamed, “JUMP!”


Anonymous Betty Myers said...

WOW What a story. Gave me chills

8:16 AM  
Blogger Cindy St. Onge said...

Thank you Betty!

10:28 AM  

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