The ghost story.

On a clear, dark night, deep in the middle of the woods, three friends sat around a small campfire, happy that their schedules were finally in alignment to make their camping trip possible. They had been driven to near insanity by their hectic lives and needed to escape to nature, even if it was for only one weekend.

“We got it made,” Ian proclaimed, as his two friends Steve and Dave nodded in agreement. “A peaceful night, a nice campfire and a bag of marshmallows each. But there’s something missing, though.” He feigned a face of deep thought. “I got it! How about a ghost story?”

“Oh no,” Steve gasped.

“What?” Ian shot back. “You can’t have a campout without a ghost story!”

“Agreed,” Dave nodded. “I’m all for it!”

Ian began his narrative in a soft but menacing tone.

“Remember that prison we drove by to get here? That reminded me of Frank Barrow, a cold-blooded killer who struck time and time again, committing his brutal crimes not far from where we’re sitting right now.”

Steve whimpered. Ian ignored him.

“Finally, years later, the law caught up with him and Barrow was arrested. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. After several years on Death Row, he was executed in the electric chair. But during the night, Barrow escaped.”

What?” Steve interrupted. “I thought you said he was executed!”

“He was,” Ian continued, “but he somehow survived his own execution. Off he ran into these woods, free to commit even more brutal murders. Six feet, four inches tall, two hundred thirty three pounds with his skin blackened and burned by the execution, still alive and still on the loose today.”

Ian paused for dramatic effect while subtly amused at the look of fear on Dave and Steve’s faces.

“By the way,” Ian asked, “do you know what reminded me of all this?”

Another dramatic pause as the tension rose even higher.

“I see him…”

Ian took his eyes off his terrified audience and looked in the distance behind Steve and Dave and quickly rose to his feet while pointing.

RIGHT OVER THERE!

Ian began screaming as Steve and Dave jumped up to look behind them as they too began screaming. The commotion continued for a few more minutes until Ian started laughing. Dave was shaking with fear while Steve was hyperventilating.

“How’s that for a ghost story?” Ian asked.

“Oh man,” Dave panted as he put his hand on his chest to feel his quickened pulse, “that was GREAT!”

“Glad to hear it,” Ian smiled. “How did you like it, Steve?”

“God damn it, you asshole!” Steve yelled. “Why did you DO that?”

Ian and Dave laughed as Ian reached for his guitar.

“Well, I think it’s time for some relaxing music to put us all at ease in anticipation of our looming slumber.”

Ian began to play a soothing melody that slowed down rapid heartbeats and cooled vicious tempers.

Suddenly there was a whistling sound coming from the bushes behind where the three friends were seated.

“What was that?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know,” Ian replied.

There was another whistling sound from behind the bushes. It became clear that the three friends were no longer alone.

Steve was trembling. “Can you go see what that is, PLEASE?”

“You guys stay here,” Ian rose to his feet. “I’ll be right back.”

Cautiously Ian began walking towards the bushes as Steve and Dave watched with fear.

“Hello?” Ian called out. “Anyone there?”

Steve was whimpering and Dave was terrified as they both watched Ian venture farther into the darkness away from the light of the campfire. Ian finally reached the bushes and disappeared as he stepped behind them for a look at their unseen and uninvited guest. Then there was silence.

“Yo, Ian!” Dave shouted. “What’s going on over there?”

There was no response except for more silence. Steve and Dave sat riveted to their chairs, too afraid to move while fearing for the safety of their friend.

Suddenly the silence was shattered by a piercing scream from behind the bushes.

“IAN!” Dave yelled.

To be continued…

After the trial.

The following story was inspired by last week’s criminal trial during which I served as a juror, but in no way does it express any opinions about it. It is strictly a work of fiction.

Ian collapsed on the couch in the living room and turned on the TV just as the evening news was starting.

“Good evening,” said the news anchor. “Our top story tonight, a shocking ending to a closely watched murder trial. We now go to the courthouse.”

“MOM!” Ian yelled. “You gotta see this!”

A reporter standing outside the courthouse began her report. “The murder trial of Ian White ended on a surprising note today when a jury took only 15 minutes to find Mr. White not guilty of grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, and first degree murder. The defendant was immediately released from custody after all charges were dropped.”

“And here I am at home, free as a bird!” Ian yelled.

“Ian, be quiet!” Ian’s mother yelled back, watching the coverage of Ian’s trial which ended earlier in the day.

The reporter continued, “We caught up with the foreman of the jury, and he had this to say.”

Then a man appeared on the screen. “Well, we were set to convict him on all the charges, but somehow we got a change of heart and decided to acquit him instead. I can’t explain how it happened, but it did.”

The reporter came back on camera. “Mr. White was accused of stealing his mother’s car and then picking up his friend Steve Strominger so they could go to The Bloody Duck strip club. They left hours later heavily intoxicated and Mr. White tried driving his friend home, but not without swerving all over the road.”

As the reporter continued her report, a blurry, mysterious figure dressed in a black, hooded robe walked across the background far behind the reporter. Then it stopped, turned to the camera, and flashed its mysterious white eyes.

The reporter continued, not noticing the hooded figure behind her, “A police car tried to pull him over, but Mr. White gave chase and soon crashed his car into the Intracoastal Waterway, where he swam safely to shore while leaving his friend behind in the sinking car to drown.”

The figure resumed its walk and disappeared from the camera’s view as the reporter finished, “The verdict has sent shock waves throughout the legal community as it promises to launch a vicious debate on the integrity of the American justice system.”

“I still think you got away with murder,” Ian’s mother said.

“Says you!” Ian retorted. “I’m a free man now. Deal with it.”

“Something’s not right here,” she muttered as she walked out of the living room.

That night, Ian lay in bed in his dark bedroom, still overcome with relief from the stressful week just concluded. He still couldn’t believe what had happened. Then the quiet was shattered by a voice.

“Feeling good about yourself, Ian?”

Ian gasped. His heart began pumping harder when he realized he was no longer alone.

“Who’s there?” Ian asked.

“Turn on the light and see.”

Ian slowly reached for the bedroom light and when the bedroom became filled with light, he could see the horrific sight that made up his unexpected visitor. It was a bloated, pale corpse of a heavyset man, dripping wet as if just pulled out of the water.

“YOU KILLED ME!” screamed Steve before lunging forward, his hands ready to wrap themselves around Ian’s neck.

Things that go rockin’ the night.

That night, as I lay in bed trying to sleep in my dark bedroom, my mind kept replaying the events from earlier in the evening. There I was at karaoke, daring to sing “Mad Her Lovely” by The Roods. My performance did not go over well with the audience, which is normally tolerant of bad singers like myself. Everyone has deep respect and sympathy for The Roods, who had just lost lead singer Morris Jameson to a drug overdose after the song was released. Having lost the driving force behind their success, the band decided to break up. Since then, no one dared to sing “Mad Her Lovely” on karaoke night unless they could perform it exactly like The Roods did. Little did I realize that I had violated an invisible law of karaoke. I kept trying to shake off that disastrous performance but it just wouldn’t go away.

Then I heard the slow creaking of a door opening, followed by slow, heavy footsteps. Next I could smell a horrific smell far worse than anything awful I ever smelled, worse than rotting meat, worse than raw sewage, worse than death itself. I also heard a heavy, shallow breathing as I began to sense I was no longer alone in my bedroom. I slowly reached for the light on my nightstand, terrified at what I was about to see.

I turned on the light and got the shock of my life. Standing before my bed was a rotting corpse dressed in muddy, tattered clothes with its bony face staring at me through shrunken eyeballs. Patches of long hair barely clung to the scalp as the corpse stood, leaning slightly to one side, arms dangling while trembling in anger.

“HOW DARE YOU DESECRATE MY SONG!” screamed Morris Jameson.

The traffic light on Elm Street.

There’s one traffic light I absolutely dread during my commute to and from work, and that’s the one on Elm Street.

So far I’ve been lucky. Lately it’s been staying green long enough for me to pass through the intersection without incident, although I always catch a glimpse of an old man seated on top of the traffic light while watching the flowing traffic below his feet.

On my way home from work, though, my luck ran out.

The light on Elm Street was red.

And when the light turns red, it stays red for a long, long time. To help deter temptation, there are twelve police cars hidden behind the nearby bushes, waiting and eager to reward any violators with hefty traffic tickets.

Nothing to do do now but wait for the light to change.

And watch the old man sitting on top of the traffic light.

Except now he’s got a book.

I watch as he opens the book and flips through the pages as if searching for something. Then he stops his search as his face lights up with a smile. He casts a menacing glare at me as he begins to read out loud.

“Once upon a time, there were three little pigs…”

Truly, I cannot recall a more horrifying predicament.

Attacked during the night.

I was lying in bed last night trying to sleep when my ears alerted me that I was no longer alone in the dark. I heard a rapid tap-tap-tap coming from the front of my bedroom and it was getting louder.

And then I saw it, the most horrifying sight. A glowing green, extremely cheap Halloween mask came hovering towards me while producing the rapid tapping noise I heard moments before. As it came closer I saw it had stickers for eyes and crudely sculpted bumps of plastic for the open mouth and exposed teeth. Wow, I thought, this mask is CHEAP. Suddenly the mask flew towards my bed and I screamed as it swooped close to my head before retreating to the opposite corner of my bedroom.

A tense silence followed, and I began to wonder if the mask was gone. A few minutes later, the rapid tapping noise resumed and the mask suddenly reappeared, dashing at me before hovering menacingly over my bed. I let out another scream and again it retreated to the corner.

Later, the mask re-appeared once again and began approaching my bed before it suddenly dropped to the floor. I waited to see what would happen next, but there was only silence instead. I cautiously looked over the edge of my bed and saw the mask on the floor with one of its eye stickers missing. Curious, I reached out to pick it up, but an arm from under the bed quickly appeared and pulled the mask out of sight.

Ian’s reality check.

“I’m proud of you, Ian,” Ron beamed as he walked alongside his son Ian during their stroll around the block.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Ian replied.

“No, seriously. Look how you turned your life around during the past 5 years. You went back to school to finish your degree and then you started training to take my job at the office. Now here I am, retired and visiting you and your family at your new house. I couldn’t be happier myself. And to think all it took was a little motivation on your part to get your life going.”

“Yeah,” Ian sighed. “I know.”

Ron could detect a hint of uncertainty in Ian’s voice.

“Something the matter?” Ron asked.

“What if all this is just a dream?” Ian wondered.

“Do you want it to be?”

“Well, no.  But I’m almost expecting something scary to happen that’ll wake me up and put me back where I started, back before all this happened.”

“Nonsense,” Ron replied. “You worked hard for your new life and you know it.”

Just before Ian could take comfort in those words, he heard a spooky laugh from behind him. He spun around only to find nobody behind him.

“What’s the matter?” Ron asked.

“Did you hear that?” Ian said. “I thought I heard laughing.”

“Probably some kids down the street.”

Then Ian heard the spooky laughing again, this time louder. He stopped walking and turned around in another attempt to locate the source. There was nobody there, only the sidewalk running past the rows of houses lined up along the street. When Ian turned around to face his father, he gasped. Ron too had stopped walking and was standing there with his back facing Ian.

“Poor Ian,” Ron spoke in a sinister voice, his back still facing Ian. “You just proved to yourself what you can do with a little motivation and now you wonder if it’s all a dream? How could you hurt yourself like this?”

“Dad, what’s going on?” Ian asked, his voice shaking with fear.

“You just worked the hardest you ever worked to get to where you’re at and now you’re expecting to wake up only to realize that none of this ever happened? Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Ian was too frightened to respond.

“You finally got my job so I can retire, you got married and moved into a nice house and you gave me a grandson. And you want all this to go away?”

“N-No, I don’t,” Ian stammered.

“You don’t sound like you want this new life. You’d rather be back home with us, unemployed and unmotivated like you’ve been all your life. If that’s what you really want…”

“No, I like this new life I have. I’ll keep it.”

Ron let out a sinister laugh. “You’ll keep it? Not a wise choice of words there.”

“Dad, why do you keep talking with your back facing me?”

There was a long pause.

“So you want me to turn around?” Ron asked.

“Yes, please.”

“YOU GOT IT!”

Ron suddenly spin around, his face as white as death, his open mouth full of yellow, sharpened teeth and his bloodshot eyes twice their size and bulging from their sockets. Ian let out a terrified scream.

Ian suddenly sat up sweating and panting, awake in his bed in his room at his parents’ house, back to his old life in progress, back to being unemployed and unmotivated as he had been all his life.

The bath.

The bathtub was slowly filling with hot water. After a depressing visit to Chicago to bury my grandmother, I was more than ready for a little escape, even it if did mean taking a bath in my room at the hotel. I was watching some TV to pass the time while the tub was filling. I was flipping through the channels before concluding there was nothing on. So I shut the TV off and walked to the bathroom to check on the bathtub. Just about there. So I began getting ready for my bath. I took off my glasses and undressed. I turned off all the lights in the room except for the light just outside the bathroom door. I walked up to the door to the room and turned the knob to engage the deadbolt. No way anyone could enter the room now.

I then walked into the bathroom, dropped the towel from around my waist and stepped into the tub. That water felt good.

There I was, sitting in the bathtub, closing my eyes and feeling the comforting water surround me. I could feel my anxiety and stress melt away and for the first time I was able to relax. I left my mind drift away on an invisible sailboat, letting it go wherever the winds blow.

Suddenly I opened my eyes. I had an alarming feeling that I wasn’t alone anymore. How could that be? That door is LOCKED.

It’s just me, all alone in the room.

How could anyone even get in the room?

Finally convinced I was alone, I closed my eyes. Again I set my mind adrift, setting it free to chase away the day’s stress.

Again, I opened my eyes.

There’s that feeling again. Someone is definitely in this room.

I looked towards the bathroom door and my eyes widened in horror. I could see the bathroom light shine from the other side of the door.

And moving feet.

Moving slowly past the bathroom.

I did a double take.

Nothing.

Was my mind playing tricks on me? Was I sleeping? Dreaming?

This was the second time I had that feeling I wasn’t alone.

Finding the bath soothing no longer, I had to investigate. I climbed out of the tub and wrapped a towel around my waist. Standing in front of the door, I summoned all my courage and cautiously opened the door.

Nothing.

What was that smell?

There was the smell of something in the room. I didn’t know what it was but I did know one thing.

It didn’t smell like this before my bath.

I slowly stepped out of the bathroom, daring to investigate. The feeling I was no longer alone blared louder than ever and I was struggling to get a grasp on what was going on.

Then I stepped on something.

Something that wasn’t there earlier.

I stooped down for a closer look.

It was dirt.

Then I noticed that the dirt was shaped like a footprint.

Not far from it was another footprint. In fact, there was a trail of footprints on the floor. But from who?

“Hello, Michael,” a voice rang out. Instantly a violent chill shot up my spine. Immediately I went for the door but found it just as locked as it was before.

“I’ve come to tuck you in,” my visitor said.

That’s when I got a good look at who dared drop by during my bath.

There, standing next to my bed, still wearing her blue dress with sprinkles of dirt, stood the person I never thought I’d see again.

My dead grandmother.