Vagrant busters.

I quietly made my way across the attic towards the light behind the door. Many years ago my father slept in the small bedroom behind that door, but now it seemed that anyone could sleep there now, including vagrants. Just because my dearly departed grandparents’ old house stood vacant and unsold for years didn’t mean anyone could sleep there.

I began pounding on the door. Immediately I heard a yelp from the bedroom, but I was only getting started. I kicked the door open and began switching the light on and off in rapid succession. The fact I was completely invisible to the vagrant amplified the poltergeist effect tenfold, effectively intensifying the terror inflicted on the terrified vagrant. He fled the bedroom and the rest of the attic, hopefully never to return.

One down, who knows how many to go.

Time to check the basement. I made sure the attic windows were locked before going downstairs to the kitchen which had a nearby door leading to the basement below. Already I had a feeling there was going to be several more vagrants to deal with down there.

I was right. There were three of them sleeping in the basement. Angered at this sight, I slowly tiptoed down the stairs and snuck past the sleeping vagrants as I walked to the small closet in the corner that doubled as a workshop. Inside, on a coat rack next to the door, hung my grandfather’s winter jacket and hat, still there, decades after his passing. I stepped into the workshop and closed the door as I put on the jacket and hat.

“Yaaaaaah!” I screamed as I kicked the workshop door open and ran out into the basement towards the terrified vagrants. Of course, I was invisible so only the jacket and hat were seen flying through the air. The vagrants fled the basement and I slammed the door shut behind them and this time made sure it was secured and locked. Hopefully that’s the last time I’ll have to deal with this problem.

Satisfied, I opened my eyes to be greeted by the moon shining through my cabin window. Maybe, just maybe, I can now enjoy my cruise without any further worries.

Rack diving in Aisle 13.

“This is what I was talking about,” Jeff said as he pointed at the shelf in question. “It’s a really tight squeeze but there’s a huge pile of boxes back there that need to go back on the shelf if our inventory numbers are to be accurate this year.”

I nodded, silently enthusing at my chance to do some rack diving, the latest phase in helping the store prepare for inventory day. Other members of the inventory prep team were working in other aisles also to retrieve any fallen boxes from the tight space behind the shelves. And now my chance finally came.

I kneeled down on the floor and started clearing the bottom shelf in preparation for the task at hand. It did look like a tight squeeze but I recalled tighter squeezes than this during the years past when I worked this job. It did mean working nights for a month but served as a much-needed change of pace from my day job working as a parking lot attendant.

“Can you fit in there?” Jeff asked.

“Oh yeah,” I replied as I began to slide onto the shelf with ease. “This one’s OK.”

“I’ll be back to check on you in a bit,” Jeff said, “I’m going to check on the others. Just get what you can, okay?”

Just get what I can? Heck, I’ll get all the boxes back there.

I continued my slide towards the back of the shelf and already I could see the large pile of boxes that had fallen to the floor. What a mess, I thought. There was barely room for me to stand up but somehow I managed to get back on my feet and start clearing the space behind the shelf.

Then I heard what sounded like a whisper. I stopped working and listened intently. Nothing but the cheesy music playing on the store’s PA system. Before I resumed my task, I heard it again, this time loud enough for me to make out the words.

“Potato chips.”

It was a hideously raspy voice that sounded like fingers scraping across a chalkboard, maybe worse, and it sounded like it was coming from just a few feet from where I was standing. Only I couldn’t see what it was.

“POTATO CHIPS.”

This time the voice was louder and I could now see the hideously deformed creature emerge from the shadows. Its skin was deathly pale and lumpy with a few strands of hair at the top of its head. It had two small dots for eyes, mere slots for a nose and a large mouth filled with the most grotesquely misaligned teeth I had ever seen…

“POTATO CHIPS!” the creature screamed before beginning its wobbly scramble to where I was standing.

Suddenly a bag of potato chips slid into view from the bottom shelf.

“Hurry,” I could hear Jeff’s voice, “Just get what you can.”

The creature grabbed the bag and wobbled back to its hiding place. As it began devouring the potato chips, bag and all, I hurriedly put away enough boxes to at least clear a larger section of floor but it was still a mess back there.

“Okay, that’s good enough, you can come back out.”

“But there’s still a lot do to back here.”

“Please,” Jeff insisted, “the creature’s almost done eating and I don’t have any more potato chips!”

I glanced at the creature one last time and saw that it was in fact almost done with the bag. The panicky tone in Jeff’s voice suggested a very unpleasant outcome of this particular situation so I stooped down for my return trip across the shelf and back into the aisle where Jeff was standing.

“You okay?” Jeff asked.

“Yes, but what was that back there?”

“No matter,” he sighed, “let’s find you another aisle to work on.”

I walked with Jeff towards the middle of the store to aisle 26, which seemed brighter with all the lights on display. “You can do this one,” he said as he led me to the shelf bearing my next task, “I don’t think there’s anything back there but boxes.”

I hesitantly cleared the bottom shelf and proceeded to slide towards the back of the shelf where once again I saw a mess of small boxes on the floor. I started working, trying to forget about the horrific sight I had seen just moments before.

Then I heard what sounded like a whisper. I stopped working and listened intently. Nothing but the cheesy music playing on the store’s PA system. Before I resumed my task, I heard it again, this time loud enough for me to make out the words.

“Pretzels.”

The Ungone.

Ding dong.

Ron answered the front door and saw his neighbor Peter whom he hadn’t seen in decades.

“Ron, how the hell are ya?” Peter asked. “Welcome home!”

“Thank you,” Ron smiled as they shared a tight embrace. “It’s great to be back.”

“And back in your old house,” Peter grinned back.

“And back in the old neighborhood, just the way it was before my transfer to Florida.”

“Amazing how time flies,” Peter shook his head. “The golden years sure catch up to you before you know it. ”

“Thanks for reminding me,” Ron sighed. “Please come in.”

Peter stepped inside and looked around the house before taking a seat in the living room next to Ron. “Looks nice in here. Just the way it was when you lived here back in the 60’s. Where’s the wife?”

“She’s out running some errands. She’ll be home shortly.”

“Ah. So how’s the rest of the family? Kids all grown up?”

There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation before Ron responded, “Mostly.”

“Mostly? What happened?”

“Ian passed away last year.”

Another uncomfortable pause.

“Ron, I’m so sorry,” Peter replied softly. “What happened to him?”

“Well, basically I threw him out of the house. He spent his 50 years just idling away in his room with no job, no education and no desire to move out and start living his own life. I lost my patience with him and just showed him the door.”

Peter nodded.  “Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.”

Ron nodded back. “Anyway, a month later, someone found Ian’s body in the woods. It’s sad to see a life wasted like that.”

“Ron, no one ever lives a wasted life.”

Yet another uncomfortable silence began to set in. Peter’s eyes began wandering around the living room before they focused on what looked like a family portrait hanging on the wall. Ron noticed this and spoke up, “That was taken at Disney World last month. A family reunion of sorts.”

Peter stood up and walked to the portrait for a closer look. “Nice. Ah, there’s Jeff and Sue. I still remember them when they were just kids. And now, they’re all grown up with families of their own.”

Then Peter fell silent. The silence lingered to the point where Ron began to sense something was wrong.

“Are you all right, Peter?”

“Ron, did you say Ian passed away last year?”

“Yes, I did.”

“And this picture was taken last month?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

Peter turned to face Ron. “Ian’s in this picture.”

What?

“Take a look at this.”

Ron stood up and joined Peter. Peter pointed a shaky finger at the person standing behind Ron in the portrait.

“Oh my God,” Ron whispered. “You’re right.”

Would you rather?

I was sitting at my desk at home paying bills while playing a game of “Would You Rather” with my smart speaker.

“Would you rather predict the future or change the past?” it asked.

“Change the past,” I replied.

“You are unique,” my smart speaker responded. “47% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather have a book written about you or a song written about you?”

“Song written about me.”

“I like the way you think. 53% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather drown in the bathtub or self-combust in the kitchen?”

I looked up at my smart speaker.

What kind of question was that?

“95% of people agree with you,” the smart speaker said without waiting for my response. “Next question. Would you rather be squeezed to death by a boa constrictor or trampled on by a herd of elephants?”

No way I’m answering this.

“Stop,” I said to my smart speaker, hoping to put an end to this typically family-friendly game.

“45% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather gouge out your eyes or cut off your tongue?”

“STOP!”

“76% of people agree with you. Next question. Would you rather-“

Before I could hear the next question, I unplugged my smart speaker, opened the window and threw it out on the street. Then I gasped at the sight I had just seen.

There were smart speakers flying out the windows of homes all over my neighborhood.


The ghost hunters.

Our first night. Steve and I arrived earlier this afternoon at Galilee, the abandoned retirement community rumored to be haunted by ghosts and poltergeists. We found our way into one of the apartments, which, to our surprise, was still fully furnished. We set up our gear in the bedroom which had two beds. All that was left to do was wait until dusk and watch for any signs of paranormal activity. To help us wait, we decided to take a nap.

A few hours later, it was beginning to get dark. As the sunlight faded, we could hear noises, noises of scratching, tapping and the occasional whisper. Steve and I held our breaths, hoping we weren’t spotted by the ghosts. Suddenly Steve’s bed began to swell as if it was being inflated. He tried to hang on but the mattress took on a round shape as it became so large that it began pressing up on the ceiling. Finally, the mattress exploded with a loud bang as Steve fell to the floor. He sat up in a daze, trying to figure out what has just happened.

“Bummer with the inflatable mattress, huh Steve?” I said.

After a long pause, Steve’s reply filled me with terror.

“Ian, I don’t think my mattress was inflatable.”

One unfortunate night at the bar.

It was a very rough day at work. Instead of working 8 hours, I put in 12. Countless deadlines, aggravated clients and misguided negotiations boosted my stress levels beyond tolerable levels. By the end of the day, though, everything jelled and worked themselves out to everyone’s satisfaction. But my nerves were still shot.

On the way home I stopped at a bar for a drink. The mood here was festive as a live band played its string of contemporary hits. I sat at the counter and saw dozens of bottles on the shelf along the mirrored wall behind the counter where the bartenders worked. Curiously, there were also lit candles along the bottom of the shelf.

A bartender walked up to me and placed a coaster on the counter in front of me. “What can I get you?” she smiled.

“I’d like a Bloody Mary, please.” I replied.

The bartender leaned forward and said, “I’m sorry, it’s really loud in here. What did you say you wanted?”

“Bloody Mary,” I repeated.

“One more time?”

“Bloody Mary!” I shouted.

Suddenly the candles behind the bartender began to float as bottles began to fall off the shelf. The entire bar fell silent as the lights began flickering. All eyes were focused on the mirrored wall that was now trembling and shaking to the point where it almost looked ready to break. Suddenly a ghostly woman with deathly pale skin and long black hair leapt out from the mirror with her hands trained on my throat.

As I lay on the floor weakened by the attack, I could see the bartender take a piece of chalk and draw a diagonal line over four short vertical lines on the chalkboard behind the counter.

“That’s the fifth time tonight,” she announced. “Now taking bets for number six.”

Cleaning up ‘Salem’s Lot.

After reading Stephen King’s novel ‘Salem’s Lot, I came up with some crazy ideas to further enhance the story. I see this as a sign of a good book, one that stirs up your imagination to come up with ideas like this one.

It was well after midnight when I pulled off the road towards the woods just outside the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, a town in Maine known for its population of vampires. Many have been curious but few have dared to visit the town itself. I on the other hand was determined to rid the town of the vampires to once again make it safe and habitable.

Slowly I drove down the dirt road that ran through the woods where the vampires were known to hide and attack unsuspecting passersby. Everyone in town was a vampire anyway, so it was necessary for them to venture out of their territory in search of fresh victims.

I turned on my hazard lights and pulled off to the side near the trees. Then I opened the trunk and retrieved the tire jack and my flashlight before sitting down at the rear tire on the passenger side. The trap was set. All I had to do was wait.

Sure enough, I heard a rustling in the bushes behind me as someone approached. The stray light from my flashlight illuminated a friendly but fiendish face. The skin was deathly pale with a reddish hue around the sinister green eyes. The smile revealed sharp fangs amongst the rest of the yellowed teeth. No doubt I was in the company of a vampire.

“Can I be of assistance?” the vampire asked.

“Oh no,” I replied nonchalantly, “I’ll change this tire myself. Perhaps I’ll have more energy after a quick nap.”

With that, I reclined on the ground and closed my eyes. It was only a matter of time.

“You make this too easy,” the vampire hissed as he lunged for my throat. But instead of his fangs sinking into my flesh, they sunk into an air hose wrapped around my neck. I pressed the button on the remote control hidden in my hand and an air pump roared to life from its hiding place in the trunk. Instantly the vampire’s head began filling with air like a balloon before exploding with a loud bang seconds later, sending the lifeless body falling to the ground.

One down, who knows how many left to go.

I put everything away in my car before driving to a different spot in the woods to set up the trap once again to lure another unsuspecting vampire.

Then I was faced with a dilemma. Either I can continue this vampire trapping all night or venture to the heart of the woods to eradicate the very source of evil that has plagued Jerusalem’s Lot for centuries. Finding this source won’t be easy, let alone eliminate it, but I decided to give it a shot.

I slowly drove down the dirt road while keeping an eye out for any clues that could lead me in the right direction. Maybe an increased presence of vampires? Or perhaps a barren landscape with nonstop lightning and thunder?

Then I saw a road sign ahead.

THE SOURCE OF ALL EVIL

NEXT RIGHT

With a sigh, I turned right and there I was, at the very spot that transformed Jerusalem’s Lot from a sleepy small town into a dreadful realm of the undead. There, in front of me, was a wretched church that stood under an atmosphere of pure fear. If I am to save this town, then I must go inside.

And inside I went.

To be continued…

Never write about the room.

I took a few days off after returning from my trip to Japan to allow myself to re-adjust to my local time zone and to allow the revelation of an actual spirit room to settle deeper in my mind. Perhaps I got carried away when I posted the details of that trip in my blog despite a warning from my Japanese host not to do so. I couldn’t help but laugh. I’m thousands of miles away from Japan now. What’s the worst that can happen?

I stood in front of the bathroom sink and applied the shaving cream in preparation for shaving. As I lifted my razor to begin removing my five o’clock shadow, I was startled to see a crack suddenly appear on the mirror. Then a second crack appeared below it and connected to the first. Then a third, and a fourth, a whole series of cracks appearing across the mirror that seemed to resemble characters of some sort.

Japanese characters.

A chill ran up my spine as I backed away from the mirror. I dashed to my bedroom to retrieve my phone so I could take a picture of the strange characters and send them to No, my Japanese host who had issued me the grim warning to keep the details of the spirit room a secret. I snapped a shot of the mirror and sent it to No and sat on my bed as I awaited his response.

A few minutes later, my phone beeped. A message from No.

You wrote about the room, didn’t you.

A feeling of guilt washed over me. After recollecting my composure, I was just about to compose a response when suddenly there was an explosion of shattering glass in the bathroom. The sudden noise made me jump to my feet and there I stood, not sure of what just happened. I slowly approached the bathroom and to my horror saw mirror fragments all over the floor. The mirror on the wall was obliterated.

Then my feelings of fear turned into feelings of horror.

That feeling I was no longer alone.

I sensed there was something, someone, hiding somewhere in the bathroom, maybe in the closet, maybe standing right behind me…

I spun around but there was nothing to see but the hallway leading to my bedroom.

Huh.

That feeling I was no longer alone seemed to dissipate and I began to feel better. When I turned to the bathroom to work on picking up the mirror fragments off the floor…

A screaming figure clad in a samurai warrior costume suddenly appeared in front of me, brandishing his sword while poised to strike.

“You want shave?” the warrior bellowed. “I give you REAL close shave!”

With a slice of his sword, my head fell freely to the floor and I could remember no more.

Now I’m in some dark realm, where my fellow spirits roam, listening for the incantation for them to appear from behind the wall of a spirit room somewhere.

Maybe someone will call for me to appear.

But first someone has to notice I’m gone.

Oh well.

At least this place has Internet access.

Visiting a Japanese spirit room.

I sat at a table at the famed Myōjōien Coffee shop in downtown Hatawaka, awaiting the arrival of my host. Tonight was to be the night I would visit a Japanese spirit room, a subject of much fascination and speculation in the Western world. Many Japanese citizens deny its existence, yet there exists evidence that suggests that it does exist and in numbers far greater than anyone cares to admit.

9pm came, and in walked No, the pseudonym of my Japanese host who agreed to take me to a house with a hidden spirit room. He looked around the coffee shop and silently recognized me by my wearing a sneaker on my left foot and a dress shoe on my right. He nodded at me and then, to avoid arousing suspicion, walked up to the counter and ordered himself a coffee to go. After he left, I waited 30 seconds before I got up and went outside to meet him in his car parked just outside the coffee shop. After the initial greetings, No covered my head with a paper bag so I couldn’t see where we were going. I agreed not to remove the bag until he said I could take it off. And then we were on our way.

After what felt like 20 minutes of feeling the car moving, we arrived at our destination. No parked the car and then helped me out before we walked up the driveway. After helping me up the few steps to the front door, he rang the doorbell before I heard the front door open. After a few whispered words, I was guided inside the house, down a hallway and into a small room. At last I could take the paper bag off.

The room appeared to be a traditional Japanese tatami room with a lone chair facing a plain wall. There were small candles in each of the four corners of the room that provided just enough light. Akiba, the house’s owner, closed the door to the room before sitting down in the chair before closing her eyes as if in meditation. No and I stood behind her to watch what was about to happen.

Akiba silently muttered what sounded like an incantation in Japanese whose symphony of consonants sounded pleasing to the ear. I turned to No for a translation but he stood silently.

Suddenly, a breeze from nowhere blew out two of the candles to render the room a little darker. The only two candles still lit were at opposite sides of the wall Akiba was facing. Oddly enough, she didn’t seem concerned or even startled.

No tapped my shoulder and pointed at the wall. Something was happening. A small bulge began to form before it grew larger, taking on the shape of a head that was pressing from behind the wall. I could see details begin to emerge, such as eyes, a nose and a mouth. Again, Akiba was silent as if to expect all this.

Then the face began to speak and Akiba responded, her voice heavy with emotion. I was startled but soon realized that I had just seen for myself the existence of a Japanese spirit room. I calmed down and watched the exchange continue for a half hour before the face disappeared back into the wall. I would later learn that the face was that of Kon, Akiba’s late husband who still visits her from time to time.

After leaving the house with the paper bag back on my head, I could hear No explain that spirit rooms are indeed commonplace in Japan, not only in homes but also in office buildings where spirits are consulted for help with business decisions. Art studios also use spirit rooms to inspire artists with their work, a chance for spirits of departed artists to seal their legacy by passing along ideas of art they never had a chance to begin.

By the time No was finished with his narrative, we were back at the coffee shop. He removed the paper bag from my head before leaving me with one last piece of advice.

“Don’t write about what you saw in your blog,” No said firmly but with a smile, “Not unless you want to see what happens to those who betray a secret that’s been around for centuries. Trust me, you don’t want to know.”