A Ghost Story
By Casey Wickstrom
It all started out as a joke.
Jolene was just the name that we put to the strange occurrences around the house. Jolene, like the Dolly Parton song. A pretty name, I've always thought. She was the ghost in our house: the one that would flicker the lights on and off as we sat in the living room drinking beer and getting high. She was the ghost who slammed the doors in the middle of the night, when we were all sleeping. She was the one who turned the shower water to ice for an instant, and then turned it searing hot the next.
She's the reason the television exploded; the reason the stereo burst into flames.
And she's the reason that people started dying.
So, this is a ghost story, but it's more than that, to me at least. Because I lived in this house with the guys, and I got to know Jolene very well.
The house was nice. It was a two story duplex, blue on the outside, white trimming. A nice, simple, unassuming American house with a tall thin tree out in the front yard. It was on a street called Richard Avenue. When we moved in, I was the oldest, but not by much. I was nineteen, and the others were a year or so behind me. There was Jacob, Billy, Joshua, and myself. I had known these guys since high school, and we had decided to get a place together now that school was over.
We had been searching all summer for a place to live. Finally, when we settled on the Richard Ave house, it was the end of August, the beginning of fall in the small mountain town of Durango, Colorado.
Jacob was kind of like the leader; he had found the place. He had red hair and was built like a lumberjack. Billy was tall and long, with toned arms and shaggy blonde hair that hung over his light blue eyes. He had a big nose. Joshua was tall and lean, with short dark hair and an acne ridden face. He wore round glasses, and had a soft, quiet personality. These were my roommates.
Four guys, and one girl.
In the movies, the monster is always in the reflection of the mirror.
Camera tricks: the girl is all alone; she opens the medicine cabinet mirror, takes out a bottle of pills; then she closes it, and BOO! Who's behind her? The killer in the mirror.
Shock scares: build the tension to a fever pitch, then let it fizzle away. False alarm. BAM! Drop your guard, and you jump. It gets harder and harder to scare you, the more you watch out for it.
You see, it wasn't like that in the house. We were seldom startled by the occurrences. At first, they happened so infrequently that it would be like a strong breeze slamming the door to one of our rooms every once in a while. Except there was no breeze, of course.
Looking back, it started with the stereo.
We did a lot of drugs in the house. We drank like fish. Nights of warm friendship, drinking and getting stoned, doing coke and shrooms, acid when we could score it; mixing them all up, taking hits of salvia through the bong as we tripped into the early morning. Youth is sweet. Maybe it was the drugs that delayed us in taking any action with the strange occurrences in the house. Being constantly submerged in the ocean of alcohol and controlled substances, we didn't take much notice to the fact that the stereo would click on all on its own, on a semi regular basis; the lights would flicker in and out occasionally. We figured it was just a defective stereo -- some kind of jammed button, or something. I kicked it once, and it shut off again. As for the lights, it was an old house.
Then the doors started slamming.
I couldn't tell you which door slammed first, but the first one that I recall was the bathroom door. Bill and I were doing the dishes (a rare occurrence in our house), and the door to the bathroom, just on the other side of the kitchen, slammed loudly. We looked over towards the bathroom. There wasn't a breeze in the house. Not a door was open to the outside.
We looked at each other, laughed, and finished the dishes.
At first, it was kind of fun. It gave the house character, personality. A door would slam, the stereo would turn on out of nowhere, softly playing. It was a kind of cool quirky thing to show our friends. "Did you hear a noise?" They'd ask. "What was that?"
"Oh, it's just the ghost of the house," we'd tell them. "Shit like that happens all the time here."
It was a game. Cupboard doors opened and shut at strange times in the night; the light in the bathroom would flicker in and out before shining brightly again, as if nothing had happened. It was innocuous.
Then the frequency gradually increased. It became more of a regular rhythm in the house; like living in a house with a train nearby. It rolls by throughout the day and night, blowing its horn, maybe even shaking the windows as it passes, and eventually it gets to a point where you don't even notice it.
And you know, you see all these horror movies where you're thinking to the characters, "What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Get the fuck out of there!" But it wasn't scary for us.
Three months passed, and as winter rolled around, and the world outside turned to ice and darkness and snow, it was only us and the ghost in the house, keeping each other company. We barely payed any attention the occurrences anymore.
But eventually it got to a point where it would be hard not to notice it. And then the dreams started.
I remember my dreams. Every single one.
I write down every dream I've ever had. I have dreams from when I was four or five years old that I remember and write down. I know that dreams are only interesting to the dreamer, but I've had some real doozies. I don't know how to lucid dream -- I've come close a few times -- but I don't really care; I just enjoy going along for the ride. But all the dreams I've ever had, I can honestly say that I knew that they were just dreams. I've always been able to distinguish between the waking world and the dream world that I occupy every night. But then Jolene started coming into my dreams, and things got strange. Things became different. The dreams that I had with her started bleeding out into the day time: moments of deja vu, a suspension of reality. It became too real.
When the dreams first started happening, I had no idea that the girl in them was Jolene. I didn't know who she was until she told me. Before that, she was just a beautiful and illusive girl; alluring and mysterious. She started gracing my dreams as a complete stranger. She came into my dreams in the beginning of November.
She's floating, suspended in space, completely weightless. Her nightgown is as white as the moon. So is her skin; it contrasts with the piercing small circular black pools that are her eyes. Her mouth is small, but sexy, and she has perfectly sized teeth, I think, although I didn't really see those. The way her mouth moved was soft and sensual, slow and beautiful, like each word has it's own emphasis, it's own purpose. She's speaking, but no words come out. She reaches out to me; she touches my right forearm, her finger is an icicle, freezer burn on my arm, and then I wake up.
"Cannibal Holocaust?!" Jacob asked me incredulously. "That's the actual title of a movie?"
"Totally." I said. "It's the Citizen Cane of cannibal films."
We were all sitting in the living room.
"There's an actual market for cannibal films?" Jacob asked.
"Well there was. Not anymore. It was briefly popular in the late seventies and early eighties. Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, mostly Italian directors, but there's a few good Spanish ones too. What's his name, uh, Jess Franco. Everyone tried to capitalize on the cannibal thing before it went out of style. Hence exploitation."
"What's Cannibal Holocaust about?"
"Um, these journalists, these American journalists, go into the jungle to document this cannibal tribe, and they end up raping one of the Indian girls and burning down the village, and then they all get eaten by the cannibals."
"Yeah. It's incredibly graphic. They're real Amazonian tribes."
"Wait," said Billy, blowing the smoke out of his nostrils and passing the pipe towards Joshua. "I think I've heard of this. Didn't they like kill a bunch of animals, but really kill them?"
"Yeah, they kill a big turtle and a little pig, and I think a monkey or something. A few animals actually die in the film. That's one reason why it's so controversial."
"Didn't the director get in trouble for that?" Jacob asked.
"Yeah, Deodato couldn't make movies for a few years after it. The thing was, with Cannibal Holocaust, it was mostly filmed in this 'found footage' style: like the videotapes of the film crew had been discovered after they had all died."
"Like the Blair Witch?" Joshua asked. The pipe came my way.
"Exactly, but Cannibal Holocaust started that shit. The Blair Witch just ripped it off. Not that the Blair Witch Project is a bad movie; I think it's pretty good overall. But Cannibal Holocaust was the real controversial shit. Deodato cast these unknown actors for the roles, and he made them go into hiding after the film's release so that people would think that they really died. I mean, a lot of people thought that this shit was real."
"Well, yeah, if they're killing animals and shit," Jacob said.
"Deodato had to go to court -- he had to find these actors again and bring them into court to prove that they didn't really die. He had to reenact some scenes from the movie that just looked too real to show that it was fake. He couldn't make movies for a while."
"Jesus." Jacob said.
I took a long pull on the pipe; the bowl cashed in my mouth.
"So why do you like these movies?" Billy asked.
"Well," I said, spitting the ashes out of my mouth into my hand and wiping them into my jeans. I put the pipe down onto the coffee table. "I like how seriously everyone took the film. Like, there was a script, you know? There's a costume designer and a continuity guy. They have a guy holding the boom mic. They had auditions for this shit, you know? People sat in a conference room and pitched this idea 'Well, we have an idea for a movie called Cannibal Holocaust,' and some one said 'Okay, let's go into the actual Amazon rainforest with actual Amazonian tribes and film a fucking cannibal horror film.'"
"I guess there's something to be said for the authenticity of that." Joshua admitted.
"There's plenty of other cannibal movies that are pure shit, but I love them. I just can't believe that they exist. Deodato's first cannibal film Jungle Holocaust --"
"Jesus, everything's 'holocaust.'" Jacob said, shaking his head and laughing.
"In Jungle Holocaust, the main actor is completely naked for most of the movie. He's got like native children and men yanking on his dong as he's tied down to a rock being tortured. I mean, what kind of fucking commitment to the role do you have to have to do that? Running naked through the fucking jungle. And Mei Mei Lai, she's hot. She's like the Bridgette Bardot of cannibal films."
"Me me lay," Jacob laughed, and switched into his Vietnamese prostitute voice. "Me me lay, me love you long time." We laughed.
"She's fucking hot, man. And she's naked the whole time too. These movies are wild. I have a whole collection of grindhouse exploitation films -- Cannibal Ferox is good, Eaten Alive is fucking bad ass. Even shit like Zombie Holocaust isn't bad."
"Another holocaust." Jacob said.
"Zombie Holocaust is cool because they combine cannibals and zombies into the plot. None of these movies make a whole lot of sense, though."
"Really?" Jacob said wide eyed, and then laughed. "A movie called Zombie Holocaust doesn't have a cohesive storyline? That's absurd!"
While we were talking, Billy had loaded up another bowl. "Here, Clyde," he said. "You got cashed, so you can have greens this time."
"Thank you, good sir."
"So, Italian horror films really turn you on, huh?" Jacob said.
"Totally. I mean, I'm a big horror fan overall, but my niche is that horrible foreign shit. Zombies, cannibals, give it all to me."
"You're fucking sick." Jacob proclaimed, shaking his head in faux condemnation. He stood up. "I'm off to work." He reached down and gave me a hug. "See you tonight, brother-man."
"Later brother, I'll be waiting for you."
"Me love you long time. You wait right here for me." He said again. "Me Me Lay, you wait for me." He left out the door laughing.
Jacob was my favorite.
I was going to drink and smoke all night long. I felt free. I was nineteen. This was our house.
Well, it was Jolene's house, but we didn't know that then.
We're sitting on a bench surrounded by trees.
She's looking far off into the darkness of the woods, silent. I shift in my seat; this is strange. Never before have we been so physically close for such a prolonged amount of time -- I could reach out and touch her hand, but I don't. Instead, I study her facial features: so white and pale, I see the right side profile of her face, the sharpness of her nose, how her lips cave inwards a bit. I see her eyelashes lift softly and delicately from her eyelids with microscopic clarity, I see the iris of her black pupil. Her ear is perfect: it's flat, thin, the skin tightly curves and flows in beautiful calligraphic flesh flow. Her ear is like a poem; its lobe barely extends from the ear itself, rather it cuts down diagonally, directly into her face, near the cut of her jaw, her white silk cheek. My visual focus fades out momentarily; her ear briefly reminds me of a child in the womb, curled up in the fetal position. Strange: how long have I been staring at her? Studying every feature, trying to engrain each aspect into my memory. I have never seen anyone so beautiful. She is hypnotizing.
She slowly turns to look at me. Her eyes dilate, her face is so slender and fragile that it scares me -- a priceless porcelain doll, pristine. She opens her mouth to speak to me.
And I wake up.
The layout of the house was simple. My room was upstairs, next to the living room. It had been the garage, but it was renovated. It was a cool, dark room that you stepped down into, with high ceilings. Jacob, Billy, and Joshua's rooms were all downstairs. Jacob had the master bedroom with its own bathroom, and down the thin and dark hallway was Billy's room on the left side, and Joshua's room at the end. There was a half bathroom downstairs. I had the upstairs all to myself: the living room was just outside of my room, and the kitchen and the bathroom were just to the left. A wooden porch stood outside of the kitchen sliding glass door, where we'd smoke cigarettes, tossing the discarded butts in a long rainbow arc into the overgrown backyard.
It was a cool house; perfect for us. We stayed out of each other's rooms -- the living room was where we spent most of our time together. That was where the tv and the stereo were; that was where we would drink and smoke and trip night after night. There was a sense of camaraderie that we all shared.
We lived a polluted existence. Treading deep in the waters of cheap alcohol and old cigarette butts, dirty bong water and trash piled up in the kitchen. Every night, I got as wasted as humanly possible, pushing the boundaries of my threshold of self-abuse to see how far I could go. Every night, we took it further and further into oblivion.
And every night I dreamt.
Her hands are small, almost like a child's. Fragile. Poetic. Her fingers are slim and delicate, perfectly maintained. Her nails are all the same length, short, barely extending out from the tips of her fingers. Her hands and fingers are pristine, and conjure up youthfulness; I follow them up her impeccably smooth and hairless arms, towards her neck, which is partially hidden by the curtain of her straight jet black hair. She emanates an otherworldly glow.
Sitting on the bench, in the darkness of the woods, I want to reach out and touch her hands, to intertwine her small perfect fingers with my own. But I'm afraid. I remember her hands are freezing; her fingers are ice cold. How long will we sit out here in the woods, not talking, not doing anything? This strange and beautiful girl. The still silence of my dreams.
Freud says that everyone in your dream is you, but this girl is not of this world -- and certainly not of my world. I don't know her. She found me. She sought me out. This strange and beautiful girl.
I was a dishwasher at a Mediterranean restaurant on Second Ave called the Celine Café. Five nights a week, I'd wash dishes and prep the food, listening to punk music, smoking weed and cigarettes, drinking wine from the cellar. Billy worked with me there. Eventually, we both moved up to the salad station. It was easy work, kind of fun when you're young and on your own. Even when you're soaked in dishwater, scraping shit off of plates, it beat school.
I started to realize that I was seeing that girl in my mind more and more. It was a dreamy kind of recollection: my eyes would fog up for a second when I thought of her face and her body. It was almost transcendent. At home, I rarely thought about her, because I was too busy getting trashed. But at the café, it was like she had planted herself into my psyche. I felt like it was our secret; the mystery girl in my dreams. I looked forward to sleep, in love-struck anticipation of another meeting. I had no idea where she had come from -- I only knew that I wanted to see her more and more.
I thought that I was the only one dreaming about her.
How We Came Up With The Name Jolene
This is how we came up with the name Jolene: we were listening to the college radio station as we drank and smoked, slowly slipping into a stupor of drowsiness and complete warm relaxation. And the Dolly Parton song came on. I have always loved Dolly Parton -- my mother loves Dolly Parton, so I have a soft spot for her. Her voice is so sweet and recognizable. The recording on the radio sounded warm and slightly crackled, like the station DJ was playing the song off a vinyl record.
"Have you heard Jack White's version of this song?" Joshua asked me.
"Oh yeah. It's great." I said, truly.
"Raw, right?" Joshua asked.
"Totally. He does it justice."
The stereo clicked off.
"Aww." We all said in unison, glancing towards the stereo. What a time to shut off.
And then Jacob raised his head towards the ceiling, looking around comically, and said with raised eyebrows: "Is that you, Jolene?" And we all laughed.
Now the ghost had a name.
The house made noises.
Creaking noises, moans, a soft sigh from the walls.
The slamming doors became a regular thing.
The tv would switch itself on in the middle of the night.
Lights flickered in the living room, strobing briefly in the cloud of smoke as we sat and conversed.
"Hi, Jolene!" We all said in a chorus.
Lines of cocaine cut up on the kitchen counter, I snorted them into my brain, and there would be an instant shift in the lighting of the house. Brighter, more responsive. A ringing in my ears, a whisper, the soft sigh of a girl, just a moment away from a dream. A moment away from the girl. It would only last for a few seconds.
High on acid, roaming the house, the walls melt and my eyes can almost make out the face of the girl in my dreams. And then a tidal wave of electrical drugged pulse pulls me away back into confusion. Strange currents. Almost had it.
The radio clicked on all the fucking time.
"Hi, Jolene!" We'd say, looking up at the ceiling. Sometimes, the stereo would turn off after we said hello.
It was cool.
"Are you awake?"
Sitting on the bench in the darkness of the woods, that's the first thing she ever says to me.
And her voice. Her voice is sweet, like a bird, like a bluebird in a tree. It matches her face, it matches her mouth, it matches her body. It's a bluebird's voice. Her voice is the color blue.
"I don't think so," I admit.
"Wonderful," she says, and smiles ever so slightly. Butterflies in my stomach. This girl talking to me, she's glowing. The most beautiful girl, she's speaking to me.
"Who are you?" I ask her.
"I'm Jolene." She says to me. Ah, yes. Of course. It makes perfect sense. Of course that's who she is. When you meet someone in a dream, a complete stranger, but you know them: the past aligns itself perfectly just for a moment in your subconscious; the suspension of belief and sense, and everything is clear. This was Jolene.
This was the ghost of our house, in the flesh.
Putting a name to the face of the girl in my dream was nice at first. I now had a visual grasp of who it was flickering the lights and turning on the stereo. It was exciting, feeling her presence, knowing what she looked like; hearing her voice from inside my head.
In each dream, sexual tension grew and grew between us.
Sitting on the bench in the darkness of the woods.
She comes up onto me slowly, her body crawling onto mine. The butterflies in my stomach, heart racing in sexual desire. The feeling of falling. She looks right into my eyes. I love her. She looks down at my mouth and slowly kisses me. Closed mouth, her lips are warm, comforting; I close my eyes and take it in.
She opens her mouth. I slide my tongue in, and stop, my eyes open up again. The inside of her mouth is ice cold; it is the inside of an untouched white ice cave, cavernous and unendingly deep. It sucks my breath out with an icy exhale, the air in my lungs suddenly deprived of oxygen, replaced instead by ice-cold subzero cracking emptiness. It is cold as death, and I can't breathe. Dark fear and sensuality circle around me as I fall deeper and deeper into her. I'm dying in Jolene's mouth, suffocating in a surreal moment. Suspended in a dream.
And then I wake up.
"Who's Fulci?" Bill asked, perusing through my DVD collection. He said it as "Full-key."
"Lucio Fulci," I told him as I sat on my bed with my guitar, pronouncing the name as ''Lou-cho Full-chi,'' "is the godfather of Italian gore."
"God, you and your Italian shit." Bill said, taking out a dvd case and scanning it over. "The Beyond." He read.
"The Beyond -- that's his best one. That and Zombie. Although he's really got a lot of great films."
"Are they really great, or are they just trash like Cannibal Holocaust?" Bill asked; he had found the case for Zombie.
"Well, they're pretty bad, but in a different way. The cannibal films are all really visceral and tasteless and extreme. I mean, Fulci is extreme -- really extreme -- but it's a different type of horror all together."
"Can you give me an example?" Bill said. He had picked up Pieces.
"That's a good one, too." I pointed out, referencing Pieces. "A really campy, senseless, fucking hilarious movie. A lot of great chainsaw murders. It was filmed in Spain, but they tried to make it look like a Boston college town."
"Hm." Billy said. He began putting each one back. "So Fulci. . ."
"Oh right. Example. Well, in the Beyond, there's spiders that eat a guy's face, and a guy gets whipped with chains and gets acid thrown on him. But Fulci's known mostly for his eye gouging scenes. Like in Zombie, there's a famous scene where a girl gets a splinter jammed right into her eye, and it happens so slowly, like inch by inch." I demonstrated, bringing my finger closer and closer to my right eye.
"Also, a zombie fights a shark underwater. It's pretty amazing. But I guess the best is in the Beyond, where this little girl's head explodes. I mean, it fucking goes BOOM! I think most of the money from the film went to making that girl's head pop like that. It's glorious."
Billy put the DVD back.
"Oh shit," he said. "I almost forgot: I bought some mushrooms last night. You wanna take some with me and go for a hike?"
I strummed my guitar, a warm and bright G9 chord sustaining into the room.
"I would be honored." I said.
. . .
. . . Sitting on the ledge of a cliff on top of a mammoth mountain, peering down across miles and miles of trees and rivers and mountains, Bill and I stared out into the epic mountainous valley. Everything around us shivered and moved. It was the wind, and it was the shrooms. We each had a glass bomber of beer with us that we were drinking, a reward for reaching the top of the mountain. Mine was a double blonde; Bill's was a double IPA.
"These are strong boomers, man." I told Bill.
"You're telling me," he said. We were dangling our feet off the edge of this sheer death-drop cliff, probably a mile or so up the mountain. If we hadn't been tripping, we probably wouldn't have been so far out on the edge. "I hope I don't throw up again." Bill said.
Billy and I had both thrown up this trip; me at the start, and Bill later on, once we had peaked, peaked on both the shrooms and the hike. When we finally got to the top of the mountain, after climbing up a slim and treacherous valley of boulders and rocks, the shrooms had taken their full effect. Bill had puked for a few minutes as the nature roared all around us in uncontrolled mushroom induced splendor. My head felt light and swirly.
"Are you alright, Bill?" I had asked him.
"Nope." He said, wiping his mouth.
"Cool." I said. "Let's keep going."
And now, we were coming down a little bit, sitting on the edge of the cliff, although mushrooms come in waves, oscillating between clarity and madness -- acid is even more jolting; mushrooms are natural, so they don't have that electrical kind of pulse to them. They're much more earthy. I've had a handful of bad dose trips, but never a bad mushroom trip.
"Clyde," Billy said, staring off into the vast and gorgeous picturesque landscape.
"Yeah, Bill?" I said.
"I have to talk to you about something when we're not tripping."
My eyes were drinking in the view; they wanted to soak up more of the scenery, but there was only so much my eyes could take in at a single view. It was profoundly amazing.
"It's something about the house." He said. I looked over at him. His pupils were pure black, complete dilation. Mine were too, I'm sure. They felt huge.
"What about the house?" I asked.
"I'll tell you later." He said. "For now, let's just enjoy this."
We went back to taking in the view.
. . .
. . . "Something's wrong with this house, Clyde." Bill said to me, later that night. We had come down, but the trip was still fresh in our minds and in our bodies; the euphoric clarity that comes with mushroom trip comedowns was still going strong. I felt pure and holy.
"You're being too abstract, Bill." I told him. "What is it exactly that you're trying to say?" My voice sounded different to me: deeper, more mature, something. I felt intellectual.
"There's someone here." Bill said finally.
"Of course there is," I agreed. "There's the fucking ghost."
"It's something more serious than that." Bill tried to explain. "There's something with my room. Come and look."
Billy and I went down the stairs towards his room, across from the downstairs half bathroom. We went into his room, and Bill pointed up to the ceiling above his bed. There was a massive bubble of ceiling that was drooping down right above where he slept. There was a bucket on his bed that caught the steady dripping water.
"Fuck," I said. "When did this happen?"
"This morning." Bill said, walking over to the bed and adjusting the bucket slightly. "I talked to Ted, he said he'd come by and fix it." Ted was our landlord. "But Clyde," he said, facing me. "I keep having these crazy dreams. I knew that this was going to happen."
The room got colder.
"Yeah?" I said. (Please don't say that a girl is in them. Please no.)
"Each night they get more and more intense, they get longer. There's this girl in them," My breath stopped, my heart caught in my chest. Damn it. I was hoping he wouldn't say it.
"Last night," Billy continued. "she told me it was going to rain, and suddenly, I wake up and there's all this water pouring from the ceiling onto my face."
"That is strange," I said. "But sometimes dreams do that. Like you're swimming in the ocean, the water's all warm, and then you piss yourself." I tried to make Bill laugh, but he didn't. The joke had fallen flat. His expression didn't change. "Clyde," he said. "The girl in my dreams is in love with me. She told me that. She said she wants me."
A quick and searing pang of jealousy ripped through my stomach. I thought that I was the only one who knew about Jolene. I thought of her mouth, how cold it was inside there, like an ice cave, but how sensual she was. I thought about how much I wanted to fuck her. But she was into my roommate, apparently.
Maybe it was for the best, I considered. Let it be.
"So, fuck her then." I told Bill. "What's the problem?"
"I'm scared of her, Clyde." Bill told me seriously. "Look at what she did to the ceiling."
"Did she tell you her name?" I asked him, holding my breath. My last chance of maintaining my intimacy with her.
Billy nodded. "She says her name is Jolene."
We both just stood there for a while, watching and listening to the drops of water fall steadily from the bubble above his bed.
I was able to reason with myself after talking with Bill. Just because he was having a dream about a girl named Jolene, it didn't necessarily mean that it was the same girl from my dreams. There was no reason to be jealous. Jolene could be an entirely different girl. How would we even know if it was the same girl? How could we know? What were the fucking chances of us dreaming of the same exact girl?
And then she started showing up in all of our dreams.
My roommate Joshua was a writer, too. Like me, he'd often be jotting things down into his spiral bound notebook. But he also had a sketchpad, and he'd draw things with pencil; animals and people in coffee shops, inanimate objects like a mug on the kitchen counter, things like that, all shaded in and smoky in that penciled art style. He was a quiet dude, but he was cool, artistic, creative, and funny. I liked living with him.
I walked out into the living room one morning, like 8:30 am, and Joshua was already up and awake, in his designated puke-yellow easy chair. He was sketching into his book, a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of him. I said hello, and went out towards the bathroom. When I returned, Joshua had the sketchpad on his lap. He was shading in the high cheekbones of an extraordinarily beautiful girl. Her hair was jet black and straight, her eyes were piercing dark pools. My stomach dropped. I recognized the face immediately.
It was her.
I swallowed, my mouth was dry.
"Who is that?" I asked as casually as I could.
(You fucking know who it is.)
"Some girl that I keep dreaming about." Joshua said.
But the way that he said it was not foreboding. He said it casually, like it wasn't a big deal at all. The way he said it, it calmed me down almost instantly. I felt thawed from my cold moment of fear. So we dreamed about the same girl -- and how did I even know that it was the same girl, anyways? It LOOKED like her, sure, but there was no real way to tell if it was the exact same girl. People look alike -- DNA, genetics . . . maybe Jolene had a sister.
And the dreams, even if they were the same, I thought as I walked back into my room, so what? Native Americans would sometimes share identical vision quests under the influences of natural hallucinogens: entire Indian tribes would experience the same out of body sensations and events -- brought on by a deeply connected drug-induced experience, sure, but mostly by just plain connection. Women can adjust their menstrual cycles to coincide with other women; their bodies can be altered and conjoined into a group. (What an absurd thought to correlate with the ghost in our house.) So a few roommates, living under the same roof, having the same dream, didn't seem so strange after all.
I wake up in the dark of my room, my bladder is about to explode.
I get up, walk somnambulistically towards the bathroom, eyes closed, still breathing in sleeping rhythm. I don't want to lose the sensation of being asleep. Walk through the kitchen, the tile floor is freezing cold, and walk into the bathroom. No lights -- that would shock my system into a coma, my eyes would melt out of my skull. Sit down on the toilet and take a piss in the dark.
I sit on the toilet and my genitals are instantly submerged in icy toilet water. It's shocking. I stand up immediately, dripping wet and cold, and flick on the light. The toilet has overflowed -- the water is just at the overflow point of spilling out of the toilet bowl. I grab a towel, wipe my soaked and dripping genitalia, flick the light off again, and piss into the sink. Let it go, man. Just relax.
It's dark in the bathroom. It's so dark that I can't even tell if my eyes are open or closed, but I think they're closed. Breathing deeply, meditatively, pissing away a full bladder into the bathroom sink in the pure pitch black dark.
I suddenly realize that I'm not alone.
It's a sure feeling: there's someone there in the dark with me. My heart snaps into a fast open-drumroll, and I have to breathe to calm it down. Shock scares. Of course there's no one in the bathroom with me. You're still in a residual dream, buddy.
And then I feel the ice cold breath of another being against the back of my neck. I hear the ebb and flow of another breath that does not match my own as my mouth opens to scream but it can't. It's right there behind me, and I can't breathe, but whatever it is behind me still can, its breath takes the place of my own as I stand in sheer terror, my bladder still emptying into the sink.
It's the darkness of my dreams, bleeding and reaching out into reality; it's the monster of every horror film I've ever watched. A figure in the darkness behind me.
A calm suddenly sets in through my entire body. A level of calm acceptance that must only come in moments of sheer and utter panic. The breath of clarity before the collision. Whatever is there behind me, I will not fear it. Breathe. I close my eyes and drink in the fear; I breathe it in. And I wait as I piss into the sink, and wait for the end, wait for the evil to take me if it's going to. I'm ready.
The fear intensifies, the breath is louder and so cold against my neck, my neck hair standing on end; and then the fear recedes, subsiding slowly; it begins to dissipate. The breathing has stopped, and now the only breath that I hear is my own. I walk slowly and stoically through the kitchen, through the living room, and down into my room, where I fall asleep again, and I do not dream.
"You have a dream journal, right, Clyde?" Jacob asked me.
"You remember all your dreams?"
"Every single one."
"Have you had a dream about the ghost in this house?"
I paused. The answer was, of course, in the silence of my pause.
"I think so." I admitted, almost reluctantly.
"I don't remember my dreams at all, but sometimes during the day they come back to me, it's like a flash of an old memory or something. Like deja vu, but not quite." Jacob said.
I listened to him speak. I could tell that it was taking a lot for him to open up about his subconscious. It was clear that he didn't spend a lot of time delving into psychology. Something was bothering him, and I think I knew what it was. "I know that things happen here that we can't really explain," he went on. "and I don't care about that, really. But I'm starting to get nervous sometimes, for no real reason. I wonder if this stupid paranormal shit is starting to take it's toll on me."
"What are you thinking about when you're nervous?" I asked him.
Freud and Jacob, a session with the psychiatrist.
"Aw shit," he said finally, sighing loudly. "There's a girl in my dreams, Clyde." He said, looking down, embarrassed. He met my gaze for a moment, then blinked and looked down again. "She says her name is Jolene."
Jolene was not the only ghost that I had witnessed in my life. There was one more incident. The only other time I experienced a paranormal entity, an actual ghost, was when I saw the ghost of Terry Sweeney. The encounter happened while I was living with Jolene at the house on Richard Ave, but there was no correlation between the two.
It was winter, and my hours got cut so drastically at the café that I needed to quit and find another job. I was quickly hired as a cook at a fine dining steakhouse called Sweeney's Grubsteak, just outside of town. It was an old and unique restaurant, the inside was all wood, with authentic native American jewelry and other ancient Indian artifacts scattered throughout. It had a winding staircase that led down into the dining room, and above was an illustrious and classy bar, along with a smaller dining area for appetizers and all that.
The restaurant was cool; I used to go on special occasions as a kid. Now I was cooking prime rib, New York steak, lobster, all this high class food. I would eat like a king each night, and I had free reign of the bar, where I'd go through an endless supply of bourbon. It was one of the coolest jobs I've ever had, and I was personally hired by Terry Sweeney himself.
Terry Sweeney was a raging alcoholic, an old coke fiend, and a heavy smoker of both cigarettes and marijuana. He was tall and skinny, and he had a long face like Mick Jagger. He had owned the place since the '70s. Terry was old, like 65, and he looked a lot older. I kept all this in mind when I went to apply; the application process was just Terry saying "We need a cook," over and over again, and me saying "I can cook, I can do anything!" (Which was a lie; I'd never cooked before.) But he hired me on the spot, I learned the ropes at rocket speed, and I was soon rocking out in the kitchen. Terry was very happy with me.
He'd come down with shots throughout the night:
"You're twenty one, right?" He'd ask me each and every time.
"Of course I am!" I smiled sweetly.
He'd hand a joint to me across the cook's line. "Take a break," he'd say, smiling, completely drunk. I never did any coke with him, but I didn't need the help, really. I was snorting blow off dinner plates, slapping a steak on the plate, and sending it out at lightning speed every night.
. . .
I was cooking on the line one afternoon, setting up for the rush, when a manager came down to the cook's window and called us all over.
"Terry Sweeney is dead." The manager told us. "He's gone, he's dead, he's dead as a doornail."
None of us were entirely shocked.
. . .
A month later, we had to deep clean the kitchen; it was an all night ordeal, just me and two other cooks. I had brought some acid and coke for the occasion, and we were smoking joints and cigarettes, pounding hard liquor while we cleaned. A bottle of bourbon ran out, and I went upstairs to get another. I was walking out of the kitchen, to go through the downstairs dining room and up to the bar. Besides the kitchen, the entire restaurant was dark; lights out. I felt someone behind me; I thought it was one of the cooks. I turned around and right behind me was Terry Sweeney. He was wearing a purple dress shirt and blue jeans, and he was smiling. I only saw him for a split second, but it was completely real. I wasn't scared at all; it was his place, after all. He'd just never really left.
I know what some people are thinking: well, sure, you take enough acid and coke, smoke enough weed, pound a bottle of bourbon, and you might see a few ghosts. But the thing was, with Terry, I needed to get completely annihilated to break through to the world of ghosts. It would've been the only way to see him. I cracked the code, the perfect amount of drugs and booze, and I transcended to Terry's world for only a brief moment.
I stepped upstairs, and the dark bar and dining room area was filled with people, all ghosts, ghosts of past decades. Sweeney's in its heyday. Now, that was the acid and the other drugs talking. I'll concede to that.
But Terry was real. I knew it.
I'm in the shower.
Ten am, soap in the hair, teeth brushed, getting ready to start the day. And I see her face in my mind; my eyes closed, the water blasting onto my head. I see Jolene in my mind. She's so beautiful. I look down, and I'm getting hard. When's the last time I jerked off? I've been too busy.
Her face in my mind. That soft white skin, that tiny mouth, that jet black hair.
I reach down and start to stroke, the roar of the shower egging me on. Rough hot water masturbation. Jerking off to a dream girl. It doesn't take long before I'm right there, right about to come, and then the water turns ice cold, instant shock, it tightens my skin around my bones, goosebumps form all over my body in frigid split second reaction.
Jumping out of the freezing jet stream. Nothing like ice cold water to get you out of the mood. I fuck around with the hot and cold knobs for a minute. One of the guys must have flushed a goddamn toilet. The water neutralizes out to warmth again. I let it run over my shoulders. I'll jerk off another time, to a magazine or something. Fuck Jolene.
Then there's hot acid fire liquid pouring down my back, a scalding flash of boiling lava that sears the flesh right off of my shoulders.
Screaming, my voice cracks. Fuck this shower! I get out and grab a towel.
The mirror is fogged, and I'm suddenly reminded of a ghost story that I heard when I was a kid:
A monster stalks these children; the fingers of its massive hands are warped and freakishly long, the pinky finger in particular is longer than all the other fingers. In their dreams, the children are terrorized by this enormous and lanky shadowed being with long suffocating arms, and those hands, those fingers. One of the children wakes up, and goes into the bathroom; the mirror is fogged, and on the mirror is a handprint. A gigantic handprint with a pinky longer than all the other fingers.
I'm standing in a cloud of steam in my deathtrap shower bathroom, towel draped around my waist. On the mirror, through the steam, if I look will I see two small handprints, with slim and delicate fingers? A beautiful girl's hands, poetic and fragile?
I take off my towel and wipe it across the mirror, completely naked, not looking to see if anything is there at all.
In the winter time, right around New Years, I got sick.
I got deathly ill. It was the flu, but it was much worse than that. Body aches, vomiting up everything in my stomach, a fever that roasted me like I was on a spit over an open fire. It was a hallucinatory, deliriously violent flu that scared me in and out of consciousness, and it terrified my roommates. I was bed ridden for three days, quarantined in my dark and cool room like I had the plague.
Jacob helped to take care of me for those three days: he brought me cold water to drink; he emptied out the trash can that I vomited the very same water into. He took a wet washcloth and put it on my burning sweating forehead. He sat on the bed with me as I lay in a paralysis of sickness. Those three days, Jacob cared for me with a kind of paternal love, with serious concern for my well being. He even volunteered to take me to the hospital. That's how bad I was; we never, ever went to the doctor. I had refused in hallucinated utterances: I didn't have insurance, the fever would soon be over, I just needed rest.
Jacob was like a brother to me. Or a father. I trusted him during my fragmented memories of illness; he was the leader of the house, he was my friend. I felt safe with him around; he just had that kind of assured attitude. Tough, strong; he had a rugged intelligence about him. I don't know what would've happened if he wasn't around to care for me when I was so sick.
But he had to go to work, too. He left around five in the evening on the third day of my illness, to go to his restaurant job. He put a fresh glass of water by my bed, pulled the covers up over me, put his hand on top of my head and said "I'll be back as soon as I can." Then he left, he closed the door, and I was left in the vast darkness of my room, my fever and body aches bordering on insanity.
I woke up suddenly, drenched in a film of freezing fiery sweat, and Jolene was in the room with me.
She was not floating, there was no otherworldly glow about her, no white aura surrounded her. She was there, in the flesh, kneeling at my bed, stroking my head.
"Jolene," I said.
"Shh," she whispered to me, smiling gently as she put her right hand against my burning forehead. Her hands were frigid; her fingers icicles, freezer burn on my forehead. I have never felt such a cool soothing touch; it cut the strength of my fever in half.
I tried to speak, but my mouth couldn't form any words. It was just her and I, alone. She was even more beautiful here in my room then she was in my dreams, an impossible thought for me to comprehend, in sickness or in health. I remember thinking about the virgin Mary: the pictures, the candles, the statues, the paintings; you know what she looks like. She's engrained in your mind.
But then she comes to your room in a moment of personal crisis, in real human form. And it's different, her image is forever changed: she's real, breathing, heart beating, blood flowing. More beautiful than anything you could ever imagine. Jolene, the real girl Jolene, stroked my burning dripping forehead with such sweet tenderness as I oscillated between consciousness and the darkness. I had no concept of time; even now I couldn't tell you how long she was there.
When Jacob arrived home, I was sleeping deeply, and my fever had broken.
Scene: Beer bottles and cans litter the coffee table; cardboard coffins of empty thirty rack boxes are strewn about the kitchen and living room. All four of us sit in our easy chairs. Smoke hangs in the room, a dense cloud of burning pot. A mirror sits beside the table; once covered with white lines of pretty decent blow, now all gone, licked clean, waiting for the next eight ball to start all over again. We sit around as brothers, friends. The stereo plays softly in the background.
"We need to pick up toilet paper," Jacob instructed. "We're out in your bathroom, Clyde." My bathroom was the upstairs one, across the kitchen.
"Toilet paper's expensive," I said. "We should just swing by Wendy's and steal a bunch of napkins."
"I can't tell if you're joking."
"I'm dead fucking serious."
"That's fucking gross. Wendy's napkins are fucking yellow, man."
"Fine then, McDonald's. Those are white, right?"
"Just go to the goddamn store and pick up some toilet paper, Clyde."
"If by store, you mean Wendy's, I'll go tonight."
"There's gonna be girls using that bathroom, Clyde."
"So the fuck what?"
"So I don't want a girl coming over here and using the bathroom and seeing a goddamn stack of yellow napkins from a fast food franchise on the fucking toilet!"
"Fine," I yelled dramatically. "If you're going to miss out on some action because of a few napkins, you have more problems than I."
We laughed. It was just another beautiful night of getting shitfaced and hanging out.
"You know," I said to Jacob. "Only one girl lives here, and Jolene doesn't care about toilet paper."
"Good point," Jacob conceded. "But I don't want to fuck Jolene."
"Yeah, that's my job." Billy said. "She loves me. She comes into my room."
"She came into my room, too." I told him. Bill didn't know about my flu episode with Jolene. No one knew. I just threw it out there for fun.
"Yeah, maybe so," Bill smiled. "But she didn't fuck up your ceiling, did she?"
"Just fuck her already, Bill, and tell us how it goes." I told him.
"I'm not gonna fuck her," Bill said. "I'll make love to her."
"That a boy, Billy." Jacob said. "A true gentlemen doesn't speak in such vulgarities."
"Fuck you, gentlemen!" I shouted. We laughed.
Joshua was smiling silently from his chair, and reached into his pocket. He took out a dime baggy of white powder.
"Well," he said softly, in his usual grumble. "I was gonna hold off, but I'm just having too much fun tonight. Hand me the mirror, Clyde."
"Aye aye, Captain." I said.
The party continues. Fade to black. End scene.
"Why won't you sleep with me?" I ask her.
Sitting on the bench, in the darkness of the woods.
It just comes out that way; this dream is not lucid. I have no control over the dialogue. I sound sad when I ask her: there's a kind of longing in my voice that I've never heard before. And a kind of resolve. She continues to look at me.
"I love your roommate Billy," she says, almost casually. It hurts me, but I understand.
"Do you even know my name?"
"Yes, it's Clyde." The way she says my name sends shivers of sorrow and lust down my spine.
"You're not going to hurt him, are you?" I ask her.
She looks at me with those eyes, and she smiles.
The corners of her mouth rise up into a small purse of her lips, and then it grows.
It is not a sweet smile.
It widens and contorts, her eyes grow, too big for her face, possessed; her mouth opens up into a maniacal wolfish grin, and she begins to giggle. Her giggle turns to a laugh, and she doesn't break her gaze with me. The laugh is bright and evil. It fills my ears.
I wake up screaming.
Three days passed, and I didn't dream about her at all.
I woke up in the middle of the night, tossed in bed to reposition myself, flipped the pillow over and turned onto my other side, away from the wall. The tv in my room was on: the screen was snowy white static, a forgotten ghost channel, it illuminated the walls and ceiling with a warm, fuzzy, electrical glow.
Billy was standing in the middle of my room, his back was towards me.
"Bill?" I said in a sleepy whisper. I blinked to make sure it was him. His profile was unmistakable: long and lean, his hair was shaggy. It was him. He just stood there breathing.
"Bill," I said again, a little louder. "What are you doing, dude?"
He stood like a statue. I shook my head, tossed off the covers and got out of my bed. (Never wake a sleep walker.) I approached him slowly, watching his shoulders rise and fall with his breath. I got right up behind him and then the terror gripped me.
(It's not Bill.)
This is someone else.
(I'll turn him around and it won't be Bill. It's someone without a face. He won't have any eyes. He'll bite my face.)
"Fuck," I whispered quietly. I could feel my heart in my skull. I retreated in shaky fear and sat back on my bed. "BILL!" I called to him just below a shout. "Wake up, man!"
"Clyde." Bill whispered. "Help me."
"Bill, you're sleepwalking, dude. Wake the fuck up!"
He stood silently for a moment longer.
"Clyde." He said.
"Aw, fuck this," I stood up forcefully out of bed and marched over to him.
(Turn him around.)
I grabbed him by the shoulder and twisted him around towards me.
Screaming violins screeched furiously in a rapid circular current of horror. It was Bill. His eyes were wide open. His face was covered in blood. It flooded from his nose all down his chin and into his mouth.
I screamed, backing up.
"Clyde," Bill said, his mouth was a gaping black hole; his teeth were all black from the blood. "Help me." His eyes were huge and white, his pupils completely dilated, the same dark color as the blood running down his face. He reached out towards me with his long arms, despair and chaos morphed his features. His skin looked pale, too pale, too white. White like . . .
I fell halfway onto my bed, my back slammed against the wall, and I turned on the light.
The room snapped in blinding phosphorescent brightness. I squinted my eyes open.
It was Bill standing in my room. The same Bill I'd always known. There was no blood, and his eyes were closed in the harsh light of my room.
What the fuck.
"Billy." I said, walking towards him, relief like a river washing over me. I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, my friend and roommate. He jolted awake and grabbed both my biceps as his eyes opened up. His hands were ice cold; freezer burn on my biceps. He came to and looked around.
"What the fuck am I doing in your room?" Bill asked me.
"You came in here to give me a blowjob, but I'm too tired. Go back to bed, Bill."
He smiled confusedly, shook his head as he looked around, and left my room. "Sorry about that, man. Must've been sleepwalking."
I went into the kitchen and took out a few bottles of beer from the refrigerator. I sat back in my bed, loaded up my pipe, and popped the cap off a bottle. I wasn't sleeping anymore that night.
The night the television exploded and the stereo burst into flame, we were all sitting around drinking beer and talking. A pipe was being passed around, and we were all getting stoned. The snow was falling outside: big fat flakes of white dumped down from the night sky. It was a good feeling, being inside the house, warmed from the heater and the alcohol, with all the snow falling outside; it was comforting. The stereo played warmly in the background. It wasn't an illustrious sound system or anything like that, but the speakers sounded good; they were about the size of cinderblocks. The stereo was tucked away in the corner of the living room, innocently playing softly. We were talking about New Mexico.
"Blake's Lotaburger is the best burger place in the world." Jacob declared.
"Fuck that," I said. "In N Out is the best."
"You don't know shit," Jacob shot back. "In N Out doesn't have a thing on Blake's. Does In N Out have green chiles and bacon?"
"In N Out is simple and classic," I began.
"And no green chiles." Jacob said.
"You can get hot peppers. What are they called . . . banana peppers."
"Banana peppers are not green chiles."
"Fuck green chiles. The quality is better at In N Out. It's fucking superior."
"Blake's has selection. In N Out has like, what, two things on the menu?"
"That's what makes it so fucking good!" I yelled. "You're a fool if you even think that Blake's is anything CLOSE to In N Out. In N Out uses never frozen beef. Blake's doesn't do that, do they?"
"Maybe not," Jacob shrugged. "but it doesn't matter. A green chile bacon burger -- tell me that's not amazing."
"Not as good as In N Out."
"You're right -- it's better than In N Out."
"You're a fucking fool. A poor, misled fool." I shook my head. "It's not even comparable!" I yelled.
"What about the Jesus shit?" Jacob said, cocking his head to the side, an eyebrow raised, knowing he had just struck a mortal blow. "The bible verses underneath the cups, the religious shit on the wrappers. What about that, Clyde?"
I took a breath in to fire back, but I couldn't. I sat back and rested my head against the chair.
"Fucker," I said, looking up at the ceiling.
"That's what I thought," Jacob said triumphantly.
That was when the television turned on and started making noise. We had gotten used to the tv turning on and off at random times throughout the day and night; we'd often unplug it before we went to bed, if we remembered, so it wouldn't wake us up in the middle of the night. Faulty electronics, we concluded. Hi, Jolene.
But it didn't quite turn on the way it usually did. It started with this strange thin humming noise, a high buzz that sounded like a far off dentist's drill. It was an unplaceable sound at first; and it slowly began to crescendo until we noticed it and began to look around to find the source of the high pitched offensive noise. It got cringingly loud. Then there was the sound of crackling electrical malfunction. We stood up and looked around. The outlet to the television was angrily spitting out white sparks. I moved to pull the plug. Jacob pulled me back by my shoulder.
"Don't fucking touch that cord, man." He told me. He was right; what the hell was I thinking? I would've put my hand right on it. Stupid.
We looked down at the outlet, which kept spitting up the white fireworks. It reminded me of a welder's blowtorch, the sparks that shot back like the fourth of July. It was pretty. If only it wasn't coming out of the wall, we could have watched it all night. Then the sparks suddenly stopped, and everything was silent for a moment.
And that was when the television exploded.
Background info: the tv was against the wall on top of a wooden cabinet, beneath it were some DVDs and a few books. The plug was off to the right side, that's where we were looking when the tv blew up.
It wasn't a nice television; it wasn't a slim flatscreen -- it was a fat piece of shit television with a Calvin and Hobbes sticker pasted on the right side. It was one of those late '90s fat and heavy black tv sets, cumbersome and clunky. So when this thing blew up, I mean, it fucking POPPED. A deep, loud POW!!!, a bomb blast that hits you right in the chest, the kind of loud explosion that absorbs into your body, overtaking you. It was a shocking blast. We all jumped back, the ringing in our ears silenced everything for a second after the explosion. Jacob yelled something as we were showered in streamers of smoke and bits of hot black plastic.
"The war is over," I thought to myself as we stood in the smoke.
"What the fuck?!" Billy said. The television was his. "Fuck this tv!"
There was a moment of heavy silence where we just stood in the cloud of electrical smelling smoke, dumbfounded, our hearts racing in after panic pulses. Silence enveloped the room -- everything was still.
That was when the stereo clicked on -- and it was loud.
The volume was maxed out. It was more than maxed out -- it was louder than any stereo I'd ever heard; it was as loud as a heavy metal concert, as loud as the explosion moments earlier. We turned our attention to the corner of the living room, where the tidal wave of sound was roaring into us. In my frenzied mind, still reeling from the exploded tv, I tried to place the song the stereo was playing. But it wasn't playing any song -- it was just a wall of screaming feedback that rose in an otherworldly pitch that sounded evil to me. That's what I recall thinking: the high pitched scream of a demon. It was like a blender trying to chew through metal, choking and grinding horribly, and we were in the blender. It was demonic.
Covering our ears, we looked around at each other, and we were scared. That's what I saw: the look in our eyes was exactly the same cocktail of fear and confusion and helplessness. The moment before the plane crashes. I remember Jacob's eyes met mine, and I wanted him to say or do something, anything, to make all this stop. And then Joshua yelled something into the ocean of evil screaming feedback; he pointed towards the stereo. We all looked back over in the corner of the living room, and the two speakers were engulfed in flames. And not like little blue flames. The speakers were raging in fat orange and red licking flames -- they rose up and danced to the blaring insanity the stereo was blasting out at us, as if possessed. Jacob said something and ran down the stairs to his room. I rushed into the kitchen to get a glass of water.
"I'm thirsty," I thought, but of course the water was not for me -- it was for the evil bonfire of what used to be our stereo burning in a mountain of flame in our fucking living room. I came back into the room, the soundtrack of madness had not subsided in the least; it had completely saturated us; we were under water, we were drowning in it. Before I could throw the glass of water onto the raging speaker fire, Jacob bounded back up the stairs with a red fire extinguisher. He pushed me away with his left hand (a few gulps of water splashed onto the carpet), pulled the pin, and squeezed the hand levers together. The extinguisher vomited up a white cloud of whatever it is they put in extinguishers ("Just water," I thought when I was a kid) and the flames and the screaming sound were swallowed up in the blast of the extinguisher. Peace. (The father, son, and the holy spirit, I thought to myself. I have no idea why.) We stood there, for what felt like a long time, yet time seemed to stand still. It was like a dream.
Billy started to laugh. It was a little snicker at first, and then a snort took over that, and then he was laughing crazily, not looking at any of us, just staring at the wreckage. Joshua started laughing too, and finally, Jacob smiled, shaking his head in stupefied exhaustion, still holding the extinguisher in his hand. I laughed a little too; it was a subdued laugh, but it felt good. What else could we do?
Jacob tossed the extinguisher into the smoldering pile of shit in the corner; it clanged against the wall and rested inside the mess, at ground zero.
"Fuck," Jacob said, shaking his head, his smile almost gone, his eyebrows raised. "Goodnight." He went back downstairs, and Joshua and Bill soon followed, without saying anything.
Our landlord Ted was called the next day.
"Has there been anything strange that's happened in this house?" Jacob asked.
Ted had come in with an electrician to fix the plugs. It had been less than three weeks since he'd come by to fix the ceiling in Bill's room. "Anything weird, like, before we moved in." Jacob clarified.
"What do you mean?" Ted asked, keeping an eye on the electrician as he took apart the blown outlet.
"Like, has anyone died here?" I asked. Let's cut to the chase, right? I've seen enough horror films. Who died?
Ted laughed. "Christ, what do you guys think I do, rent out houses where people get murdered?" Bill shuffled in the living room awkwardly.
"It's just, there's been some strange occurrences," Jacob ventured cautiously. "Doors slamming, lights turning on and off, and now this shit with the tv and the stereo."
"Well, that's why we're here today, to fix everything up. And I am sorry, guys. When I checked all this stuff, it was right as rain. Isn't that right, Bob?" He called over to the electrician.
Bob nodded. "Yep. Before you boys moved in, we checked everything. It was solid."
"Hm," I said.
Joshua scoffed softly.
"Look, guys, I'm sorry about all this. I'll take a hundred dollars off of your rent, each of you, for the month." We looked around at one another. That was cool. Thanks, Jolene. We told Ted thanks, that would be really great.
"Hey Ted," I asked, just for the fuck of it. "Did anyone live here named Jolene?"
"Jolene?" Ted asked, his eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. "Nope."
Montage of Research
If this was all a movie, this would be the part where we go to the local library and dig deeper into the history of the house. It would be the montage showing us studiously looking up old articles and jotting furiously into notebooks, reading big heavy books and looking at old black and white pictures that rise up and float across the screen, all set to dramatic music.
It would be the part of the story where we find that there really was a girl named Jolene who lived in the house. And that her mother was a crazy religious zealot; and she laced her daughter's drink with sleeping pills and drowned her in the bathtub. And then the father came home and shot his wife when he saw what she had done, and then he blew his brains out. And that's why the house is so fucking twisted, because no one there ever got to say goodbye. They're all just evil spirits without any closure.
And then we bring Jolene out with a seance, perhaps with the help of a reluctant clairvoyant, surrounded by candles in the darkness of the living room, and we tell her that it's okay, she can rest easy, and the curse of the house is finally gone. Roll credits.
But none of that happened. There was no explanation to what was going on at the house. We all went to the library, sure. I stayed up a few nights looking into the very limited history of the house, trying to find a piece, any piece, that might explain what was happening. And I didn't find a goddamn thing. Because it wasn't a movie. It wasn't a standard haunted house ghost story. In real life, things just happen with no explanation. And you're left to pick up the pieces.
Joshua left the house.
He hadn't moved out; his shit was still around the house, his room door was shut, but he was gone. A week went by and we hadn't heard from him or seen him at all. We checked the restaurant that he worked at as a line cook; he had quit. His cell phone had been disconnected. We went to his parents house in a last ditch effort to figure out where he was, and he wasn't there either. No one knew where he was.
Prior to him leaving, Joshua had changed significantly. He'd always been quiet, subdued, passive, but in the month or so leading up to his disappearance, he had become even more closed off. His drug use went well beyond what we were doing (which is saying a lot), and he started getting violent. He broke a window in the living room, he tried to fight us and had no recollection of it; he had completely obliterated our kitchen wall one night by hurling beer bottles at it, glass spraying everywhere. He was like a demon, possessed.
He no longer wrote or drew -- at least not where I could see him -- he would lock himself in his room with a bottle of cheap whiskey and a few grams of crummy blow, not talking to us for days at a time.
It was clear that he was trying to escape something by getting so fucking torn up and blacking out. We didn't know what he was running from at the time, but it's clear to me now. We all had different ways of dealing with what was going on in the house. I stuck to a steady regimen of drugs and alcohol myself, writing and documenting all that I could; but Josh had taken his escape route to a very dangerous level. The first week that he didn't return, it was honestly a relief, although we were all concerned for his well being. Had he been arrested? Was he even alive?
These questions faded slowly as we made up the difference in his rent. He had paid most of his portion in advance for a few months, thankfully, so it wasn't too much of a hardship for us. Although ultimately we would hear about what happened to him, none of us would ever see him alive again.
The house got cold. It was as if we didn't have any walls or windows, cold. The digital clock that Jacob had put on the living room wall read two degrees fahrenheit. It was deathly cold in our house, as cold as it was outside, and it was quiet.
Well actually, the thing was, it was only the living room. The rest of the house wasn't really that cold. It was just the living room. When I walked up out of my room and into the living room, it was like stepping into an ice cave. The stiff silence that hung in the house gave me the impression that everything was frozen solid; we were encased in a huge iceberg. Completely submerged, our entire world frozen in time, under water, dulled and preserved for all eternity, a world of ice.
It was warm in my room. Warm enough, anyways. Walking into the living room was like walking outside -- it was breathtakingly cold. It was painful to draw air into my lungs. I called downstairs to Jacob and Billy. I thought of calling Joshua, too, but he was gone. Perhaps he had done the smart thing leaving the house. Jacob and Bill came drowsily up the stairs, and when they neared the top, their steps slowed down dramatically, as they looked up into the living room. As they ascended, it was obvious that they could feel the drastic shift in the temperature of the house. Their breaths rose in thick dense clouds that lingered in the still frozen air of our living room.
"What the fuck?" Jacob said once he had reached the top of the stairs and walked into the room. He said it slowly, almost in a whisper, looking around in complete bewilderment. "Why is it so cold?"
"I know, right? What the fuck is this?" I asked.
Billy shivered in his pajamas.
"I don't know how much longer we can stay in this house." Jacob finally said. It was comforting that he had said "we." It made me feel protected, in a way. Had he said "I don't think I can stay in this house any longer," I would have felt abandoned, scared, alone. Jacob was the leader of the house; I trusted him to take control.
Billy said "I think it's going to get worse."
We looked at him.
There was a knock at the door.
We all jumped.
And it was the strangest thing: when the knock happened, everything shifted, and the living room was warm again. The light in the room changed to a warmer, healthier, deeper ambiance. Our living room was no longer a frigid ice cave; it was just our old living room. With the knock, everything had clicked back into focus, back to normal. The cold had been just a really vivid group hallucination.
Jacob opened the door. It was Ted, standing out in the cold, on our porch. He looked visibly distressed.
"Hi you guys." He said.
"Hey, what's up, Ted?" Jacob asked.
"I just wanted to come by and tell you how sorry I am about what happened."
"Why?" Jacob asked. "What happened?"
Ted was taken aback, he took a step away from us.
"Oh my god," he said. He reached up and scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "You guys didn't know."
"What happened?" Jacob repeated, with a little more urgency.
"Joshua." Ted said. "He got in a car accident. He died. He killed another driver, too. It's too early to tell, but the cops suspect that he was driving under the influence. This all happened last night." His words did not register, but their impact was shocking nonetheless.
"Jesus, you guys." Ted said, shaking his head. "I thought that you knew."
"No, we didn't know that." Jacob said. Billy and I just stood there near the open door.
Jacob shut the door, and without a word we went straight down the stairs and into Joshua's room. We hadn't been in there since he'd left. I had gone in his room briefly, only once, to see if I could find any clues to solve his disappearance. I had found nothing. His room was well kept, clean, and proper. Nothing seemed to be out of place.
When we opened up the door to Josh's room, we stopped. It looked like a hurricane had hit. Papers were strewn all over the floor and bed; clothes avalanched out of the closet into a dirty heap; his bed looked filthy. On it was his black sketchpad.
(Pick it up.)
"Christ! What the fuck?" Jacob said as we stepped into the room. "It wasn't like this before." Both he and Bill had also checked the room for clues earlier on. There was a strange smell that hung in the air now, like overripe fruit. I walked over to the bed (pick up the sketchbook) and reached for his sketchbook. The instant I touched it, I felt like I had entered a dream state; things got warmer and surreal. (Open it up.) My fingers moved slowly, like I had no idea what it was I was looking at.
I opened it.
There she was, on the first page, looking slightly to the left, her chin and eyes immaculately preserved in pencil, shaded and contoured on paper. It was the picture I had seen when he first drew it. I turned the page, and there she was again, sitting on a bench in the woods. I recognized the bench. I recognized the woods. Billy and Jacob had gathered around me as I flipped through the pages. There were writings on each page that grew more and more illegible as I turned them. Until it was just lines and strange shapes that took up each page.
(Stop turning the pages now.)
I knew that I needed to stop, but I couldn't. My hands were not my own.
(Don't do it.)
I turned each page, knowing what was coming, not bearing to look, my fingers mechanically functioning through muscle memory.
I turned the page. I knew it was the last picture that Joshua had drawn. Somehow I knew.
I turned to the final page, and there she was. It was a picture that struck dread into my body. It was her, with her smile. Her wolfish, evil, maniacal smile; it leapt off of the page and thrust me back into my dream, my nightmare ("You're not going to hurt him, are you?"). The moment when I knew she was evil. Her beauty transformed into terror.
Jacob took in a thin hiss of air through his teeth. We stood still, surrounded by the chaos and filth of Joshua's discarded room. Jacob's breath got faster and faster behind me, like a tide that was coming in.
"It's that fucking cunt Jolene!" Jacob screamed, and the pure terror that came from his throat and out into the room pierced my ears, and that was when the fear sank in for me. It swallowed me whole. There was no longer any question -- Jolene was the exact same girl for all of us, in our dreams, and in the house. The fear of helplessness, like watching someone you love bleed out completely right in front of you as you stand frozen, unable to help. The fear that the monster is real, that whatever is happening is outside of your control; you are completely powerless, this thing is bigger than you, and you don't matter at all.
The fear -- I was dropped into it. The moment where you fall in a dream, and right before you hit the ground, you wake up. But I was already awake. And I was still falling; the fear sustained, and it crescendoed; it knew no limit, no boundaries.
I still remember Jacob's scream: that pure, unfiltered, terrified scream coming from someone who I thought would never break, would never get scared. Jacob was afraid, and now I too, was truly afraid.
His scream is the ringing in my ears that I can never get rid of.
We sat in the Durango Diner; it was nearly full. We were huddled in a booth in the back, down past the counters and the flattop grill.
"Fucking Josh, man." Jacob said, shaking his head. We were all in shock. The coffee was good. Hot. The snow fell outside.
"What do we do?" I asked. "What do we do about the house, about Jolene?"
"Jolene," Jacob said with venom in his voice. "It was her the whole time."
"I didn't know that she would be so evil." Billy said sadly.
"Goddamnit. What would make the house so goddamn cold like that?" Jacob asked us. "We all felt it; that shit was fucking real."
Bill was silently looking down into his lap.
"I fucked her last night." Billy said, his eyes empty and tired.
"Who?" Jacob asked him.
Billy stayed silent, staring deeply into the table, and then we knew who he was talking about. Never before had so much been said without any words. We waited, our eyes fixed on the coffee table, our minds on the sketch that Joshua had drawn -- that picture, when all this became very real.
"Oh, Bill." I said.
Bill looked up at us. He started to cry a little bit.
"I'm sorry you guys." He told us, whimpering softly. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I mean, Joshua, the house being so cold like that, I think that it's all because of me and her."
Jacob reached out and grabbed Billy's shoulder, I did the same, on his other shoulder. Camaraderie. Comfort. Like brothers. Billy's shoulders shook up and down.
"Jesus. Well, what do we do?" I asked, looking into the table.
"We should leave." Jacob said. "Just get our shit and leave."
"No." Bill said, suddenly, looking up. He wiped his nose. "We need to stay there another night."
"Fuck that, man." Jacob said.
"I'm with Jacob, fuck that."
"You guys don't get it. This won't stop unless we make it stop. I fucked her last night, and she took something from me. I can't explain it, but I feel empty. I need to get it back, whatever it is she took."
Jacob and I were silent. Jealousy and fear mixed inside my guts. I saw her beautiful body in my mind (naked -- something I would never get to see), her pristine face, and then her crazed, wolfish smile. Hot and cold. Just like the fucking shower.
"She wants to hurt you Bill." I told him.
"I know. She told me that. But I think I can talk her out of it."
"No." Jacob said, firmly. He had regained his leadership, his control. "Absolutely not, Billy. There is something evil, there is something . . . wrong with that house, and with Jolene, and I absolutely refuse to be a part of it. And I won't let you take any part in it, either."
"Clyde," Billy turned to me, with complete control of himself now. "Will you stay in the house with me for one more night?"
I took in a deep breath.
"Billy, man, I don't think that this is something that you should fuck around with." I told him.
"She's not a threat to you." Billy pointed out. "Not really, anyways. It's me that she wants -- I don't know why, but we all know that now. It's only me that she wants, and so it's only me that can possibly make her go away."
He had a point. Jolene terrified me, and she had played around with the house a lot, but nothing she had ever done to me personally had been bad. Actually, on the contrary -- she had cared for me when I was sick, she helped nurse me back to health; she had kissed me, she had spent hours and hours with me while I slept in lovely dreams.
He had a point. What else could possibly make this stop? If Bill had fucked her (jealousy boiling in my guts), then he must know something that we didn't. Maybe he could make it go away. Maybe . . .
"I need you to stay in the house with me tonight, Clyde. I think I can make her go away."
"How, Bill?" I asked.
"I'll figure it out. I think I know." He seemed certain.
"You guys," Jacob said, pleading in a low voice. "This is insane. This is fucking insane. This is so . . ." he struggled for words. "Bad. This is not going to end well."
"Clyde, yes or no?" Bill asked.
I looked at him, and I saw the determination in his eyes.
"Fine, I'll stay."
"Clyde!" Jacob shouted. A few customers at the counter glanced our way. "No!"
"Jacob," Billy said. "this is between me and Clyde now. And Jolene. You can leave if you want."
Jacob tensed his muscles furiously, his hands gripping into his forehead with intense strength. He took in a deep, deep breath.
"Fine," he said, his hands covering his face. He dropped them down. "I'm staying, too."
The Last Dream
A bird's voice. Blue. A bluebird's voice, sweet and melodic, a lullaby. So sweet and soothing.
"We have to, Jolene. This is too much." I tell her.
Sitting on the bench in the darkness of the woods.
"No, please." She says. She's so beautiful this night, exceptionally so, resplendently beautiful.
"Are you in all our dreams at the same time?" I ask her.
"Sometimes, yes. But it's different for each of you."
"Why are you doing this?" I ask her. I've never spoken to her for this long.
And in my mind, an internal dialogue of frantic reasoning:
Why did we stay in this fucking house for another night?
Well, we all dreamt of Jolene, but Bill was the only one to sleep with her.
She's evil. She's dangerous. But she's beautiful. I love her.
Bill knows what he's doing. Trust him.
Destruction. ("You're not going to hurt him, are you?")
"I want to be a part of you." She says to me, looking deeply and intimately into my eyes. I turn cold.
"A part of us?"
"Yes." She says.
"I don't know what to say. I -- I don't think that you'll ever be a part of us. How would you do that?"
She looked at me, and the time around us slowed dramatically.
"I'm going . . ." she said. "to take" . . . "Billy."
"No, you're not. Please don't."
She repeated it again, a broken record. "I'm going to take Billy."
"No! Stop, please!" I can't move. Panic hits.
"I'm going to take him away with me."
"Stop! Wake up! Wake up, Clyde! Wake up!" I scream at myself, but I can't wake up. Jolene is in control. She's always been in control. It's her house, her dream, her lover, my roommate. "WAKE UP!!!" I'm stuck in solid concrete as Jolene gets up off of the bench and begins to walk away from me, lightly, like she's walking on the moon, her aura shining brightly.
"Stop! JOLENE, STOP!!! PLEASE!!!" I can only scream at the top of my lungs as she drifts further and further away from me, into the darkness of the woods. "WAKE UP!!!
"DON'T HURT HIM!!! PLEASE, JOLENE!!!" Screaming, crying, pleading. I'm stuck to the bench, helpless, alone in the darkness of the woods, unable to move. I call out her name in vain, I try to wake myself up as she gets smaller and smaller. I should have never fallen asleep. I have to wake up and save Billy.
We should have walked away and never returned to the house. Like in the horror movies, if only we had left, maybe things would be different. But we stayed there one last night, because it was what Billy wanted.
I watched helplessly as Jolene was swallowed up into the darkness of the woods.
When I woke up, I snapped up out of my bed.
I felt like I had been submerged in ice water, arctic and freezing and deadly still. I woke up gasping for air, choking on oxygen, breathing in cold death. I leapt out of bed, screaming Bill's name. I burst out of my room; it was now morning time. It was a bright and early day, the sun was just beginning to illuminate the walls of the living room. I raced down the stairs screaming in complete panic. I've never been so afraid and so certain. Screaming in a nightmare. Racing down the stairs, sprinting down the dark thin hallway to Bill's room.
Bust open the door, and there he is.
Billy lying there so peacefully. Asleep. Asleep and not breathing. Eyes closed in prayer, his skin pale and white, his soul in another world. My screams turn to cries as I grab him by the shoulders and try to shake him awake. But I can't wake him up. I put my head on his chest, and I don't hear anything.
It's the silence in our dreams.
I tried to save him. I really, really tried. I pounded and pushed on his chest like they do in the movies; I grabbed his chin and opened his mouth to peer inside to see if he'd choked. I put my mouth on his, my brother, my roommate, my friend Billy; I put my mouth on his, cold helpless tears falling from my face onto his as I blew air into his silent lungs. The inside of his mouth was cold, like an ice cave, deep and cavernous. The breath that came up from his lungs back into my mouth was only my own breath, but it wasn't even my own -- it was hers. Freezing air that drifted out from his lungs and up into my mouth; breath so frigid, subzero and unforgiving. Billy was gone. Jolene had taken him away.
I imagined the ceiling above us erupting in a waterfall. A river of cold liquid sorrow washing over us. I imagined the gigantic bubble that was once above his bed bursting open, flooding the room, the house. But that didn't happen. Because Jolene wasn't in the house anymore.
Somehow, I knew that she was gone.
Jacob had left.
I found the note on his bed:
Clyde and Billy,
I'm sorry to leave you guys, but I can't stay here any longer. Something very bad is happening, and I just can't be a part of it. Let me know how it works out. I'm rooting for you.
I dropped the note back onto his bed. I had a heavy, knowing feeling in my heart that I would never see Jacob again, either. Jolene had broken us all apart forever. I went back into Bill's room and just cried.
I was all alone in the house, for the first time.
In the airplane, I feel detached and numb. It's been a week since I left the house, never to return. Silence at 20,000 feet.
In the airport, I feel fragile and cautious as I unload off the plane and step out toward the baggage claim.
In the rental car, I feel a little better, a little more secure knowing that I'm driving away from the house. The desert of New Mexico is beautiful. It was an impulsive longing, to go to the desert, and I went with it. Las Cruces is beautiful. The sun begins to set in warm tones of dark orange, red and purple. I pass by a Blake's Lotaburger. I need to stay away from Colorado for a long time. Maybe forever.
The radio plays softly as I drive on, the car lulls me into peace.
And then the Dolly Parton song comes on the radio, sounding warm and slightly crackled, like it's being played off a vinyl record.
And I drive.