ISOLATION WARD – BELIEVING IN GHOSTS

ISOLATION WARD:

Believing in Ghosts

A Short Horror Story by Charles E.J. Moulton

I guess I didn’t hear the branch crack, didn’t see the glowing face in the darkness, or hear the scream that caused my friends to leave. All I heard was the scuttering of feet through moss and branches. And so, perplexed, I turned around almost in slow motion and watched them running away into the darkness, and wondered what the cat had dragged in to create such havoc. For one moment, I was left there numb, and dumbfounded.

The people that had called themselves my friends, okay, my younger friends, had – how shall I say? – chickened out.

Did I need friends? I suppose.

Did I need to tell someone what to do or what to believe in?

I suppose.

Fat Roger, who spent the entire day telling everyone he could break anyone’s neck in one swift swoop, had the habit of acting in ways that made me disbelieve what he had said. His bark louder than his bite? Perhaps.

He now stumbled over a branch, falling down on his arse. That movement, had it not looked so painful, would’ve been a perfect addition to any “Three Stooges” movie.

Roger screamed once, the shout transforming into a gargle. He panted like an angry horse, and was yelling for the damn grapevine to stop writhing around his ankle.

“Where’s the fucking grapevine, Roger?” I panted. “Get up.”

He leaned over, strangely, pulling the writing leaves around his ankle half-way-away from the bush, shouting at me, for one moment looking like a stubborn donkey banging his head against an imaginary wall.

That behavior darned well told me he wanted to me to stop bugging him.

“You dragged us here,” he screamed at me, his face turning red, flopping down upon his ass again. “You don’t need to help me now. Let me get out of this my frigging self and join the girls running back to the real world.”

I stretched out my hand. “Let me help you up, Blubberface.”

“Don’t you ever call me that. Don’t ever frigging call me ‘Blubberface’.”

“Just a joke.”

“Join the ghosts you don’t believe in.”

“There is no ghost,” I sniggered. “Man, that’s the point of this whole operation.”

Roger tried to help himself up out of his awkward position by getting up on his hands and knees. He failed miserably in doing so, looking more like a bug on his back than a fat, redfaced, and aging teenager. “What about all the stories people tell down in Greenbush, huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Ya got any answer to that, … Ssss- … Shhh- … Smartass?”

His repetitions grew more intense as he spoke.

“You’re frigging nuts.”

“There are stories,” he yelped. “Yes, sss- … stories.”

“What stories? Those were made up by scardie-cats who wet their beds.”

“Why are you hanging out with us, anyway,” Roger asked me.

“I wanna take care of you.”

“Bullshit,” he spat. “There’s is something here and it’s not human. Not anymore, Frank. Take care of us? As if we needed that. Who the fuck are we? The Breakfast Club?”

His voice escalated into a high frenzy.

“It’s a ghoul.”

“There is nothing here, Roger,” I spat. “Just trees and moss.”

“There is, too,” he blubbered. Still a blubberface. “If you don’t leave, as well, you’re gonna be one of the slicers.”

“Slicers?”

I chuckled, but Roger’s gaze grew so serious that it scared even me.

For that one moment, I stood there watching him, wondering why my idea of challenging the infamous ghoul had turned into a nightmare. I mean, I didn’t even believe in this shit. Ghoul? What damned ghoul?

“If you believe in this shit,” I whispered, “why did you come here and join me? Why did the girls come and join me? I mean, if you believe in this legend …”

Roger bit on his lip, began speaking, stopped and finally gave it up.

“I just dragged you here to prove to you …”

My mom had always told me I always chose people younger than me as friends just to feel I could take care of someone.

That was bullshit, wasn’t it?

“Where are you hurting, Rog’?”

He watched me, his open and nervous eyes staring at me, hoping I wouldn’t rip his legs off. I mean, that was a year ago right? I had been wrestling with the guy back in Sam’s Diner. He had told me to stop, but he had been laughing. Right? The laugh was as sure a sign as any that Roger was okay, and that he saw it as a game. I pulled the man’s leg, dragging him across the floor, thinking he found it as fun as I had. Apparently, I gave the dude a sprain that he still suffered from, lying there, with the grapevine wound around his bloody leg.

Now – well, okay – now Roger looked at me as if I were a deviate.

“Hey, damn it,” I yelled, my voice echoing into the night, “I didn’t know, okay?”

Roger gritted his teeth. “You gave me a year of psychotherapy, asshole.”

He stuttered, blubbering even, waving his arms about, pointing at branches and trees.

“And now this.”

“Now what?” I wondered. “I just accompany you to the shrink, dude. And the girls believe in these bloody stories because they are just as impressionable as you.”

He looked at me, for the first time real anger in his stare.

“You,” he hollered, “convincing us all to come here, to meet the boogieman.”

He tried getting up, failed, and tumbled down again.

“I wanna leave.”

I laughed, feeling like the host of a stand-up-comedy-show.

“Come on,” I giggled. “You don’t really believe the slicer is gonna come here and rip us up, do you?”

“My leg is hurting,” he screamed, frothing at the mouth.

“I didn’t push you,” I demanded.

I leaned over, trying to remember the first-aid-class in school, gently pressing some of Roger’s fat flesh in the light of the full moon shining from the trees.

“Hey, butthead,” Roger snapped. “Careful.”

Now I got mad. I mean, here I was, trying to give my friends some hope in telling them there were no such things as ghosts, and what did they do? Run at the very first sign of mischief. Probably a rat.

“Cool it,” I cackled. “Probably just a rat.”

Roger groaned, shaking his head first, rubbing the spot that I had rubbed, but harder, and made a fake face of suffering.

“Roger, I will help you up,” I said, reaching out my hand.

“No!”

Roger opened up his eyes wide and tensed his throat muscles to the extent that I could see his veins.

“Fuck off!”

“You don’t mean that,” I said, gesturing behind me.

“Yes,” Roger said, his T-shirt slipping up above his bellybutton, his stomach bouncing with the force of the gusts of air his lungs were pumping in and out. “Stupid! Eve liked you. Not anymore. You certainly blew that one.”

He cackled a snigger that sounded ironic and angry.

“Fuck your boogeyman! Pull off his leg!”

Suddenly, that sting of anger and pain shot through my veins.

“Look, motherfucker,” I said, grabbing him by his shirt and shaking him like a darned ragdoll. “Leave it alone. I’m not doing this for my health. I’m doing this because I believe your fears are unfounded.”

“Tell that to Mr. Muffins,” Roger said, referring to Roger’s psycho-analyst, who always served him those vanilla-soaked muffins. Mr. Theodorakis, a man with a thick beard, ended every of one of Roger’s sessions with a muffin. I took time off just to wait for Roger to finish every Friday, but sometimes I lost my temper when he turned into a freak, telling me how everything scared him to smithereens. Confrontation! That was my method. Theodorakis disagreed, of course. But what did I know, not being a shrink, of course! Now, Roger fell down again, crawled backwards, dusted off falling leaves, helping himself up from a weird position, humping up on one leg, almost falling down in the process. So much for confrontation. “Damn you, leave me alone.”

“The village is that way,” I said, gesturing behind me again.

Eve and Wendy were long gone. Their screams and whimpers had drifted away. To where? I don’t know. Maybe they had found a shortcut to the village I hadn’t.

“Look,” I said, pointing backward. “The village is that way.”

Roger limping away, suddenly I realized I had been startled by all these people running off into the night, and breaking their promises.

“Hey,” Roger screamed. “What the fuck am I gonna tell Mr. Muffins?”

I also realized that their reaction scared me more than any frigging ghost. Heck, I had even brought my bagpack with the beer and the chiliburgers. I would’ve brought my smutmags, too, if I would’ve dared. But Wendy was too prissy for that, I guess. Eve had jerked me off once to a climax, but that was it. Now, she would probably just call me a jerk and then tell me to fuck off, but what the heck? Easy cum, easy go, I guess.

“Oh, no,” I whispered to myself. I had taken out one nutcase and two prospect shags on a ghost-hunt and now I was left alone, all by myself.

“I’m going home,” I yelled, hoping Roger would hear me. What the sweet fuck do you do when you’re alone in the dark on a Wisconsin night? “Damn it, Roger. You’ll die down there. There’s nothing there but …”

Roger ran, he ran so damn fast, even with his bad leg, he was gone before I could say anything else. “There is no darned boogeyman, so let’s go home,” I said, trying to convince myself that I had been right all along, wondering why even Eve had ran away so fast, when she had given me half of a promise to hump me in the forest if we didn’t find this … what had they called him? The Throat Slicer? Something of that sort. I suddenly realized what was down there beyond the forest patch and shivered. A short-cut to the village. They had been right about after all. Man! Why had I forgotten that we were on a hill?

I turned around to see what was behind me now. Man, that was a light there, wasn’t it? I turned back, expecting to see Eve running back to me, telling me to hurry up. Okay, hoping to see her. Hell, I had grown up walking around in the dark forest with me father. I mean, he was a forester and all and we never walked into the darker passages, but still. They were on their way to the village, but the other way. But wasn’t this way …

I was just about to turn back, calling out for Roger to stop, so I could follow them. Maybe, just maybe, I could catch up with them and they would forgive me, we could share our cold chiliburgers and beers, and laugh about what silly nincompoops we had been.

As I turned around, though, instead, a glowing face met my stare. I really couldn’t tell where it came from – or why it chose me as a victim. I just know that when it did arrive, I was completely alone. All I could feel, or hear, was the beating of my own heart, making the blood thump so hard in my veins, I felt it inside my mouth.

“Mr. Muffins?” I croaked.

But it wasn’t Mr. Muffins, was it?

The creature cocked its head, its white face almost flourescent, looking at me very much like a curious dog would look at a strange bug, its bloodshot eyes wide open. The only movement I could detect in its otherwise immobile carcass, was in its head, long strains of black hair hanging down from each side, in a hairdo that reminded me of the old punkrocker Iggy Pop, during his wildest days. In fact, come to think of it, this creature looked very much like a pale version of that Scott Glenn, or – Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”.

I gasped, my heart beating faster, my breath at once shallow, heightened senses turning every single moment into an acute entity of awareness. I looked into the stare of a beast, wondering why this creature allured me and scared me at the same time.

“Who are you?” I asked.

The creature, for it seemed more like a creature than a human being, grinned, its eyes just as wide as before. It didn’t respond. It just opened its mouth and gasped.

Did it live here? Moreover, where had it come from? And why had it appeared here at night? Was it a part of another troupe of ghost hunters?

“Which ghost would himself chase ghosts?” I thought to myself, feeling like a mouse about to be devoured by a wolf.

I never could recall having been really afraid. That face, though. It stared back at me with that zest and joie de vivre in having come found a victim at last.

Me? A victim? No. Or was I? A guy who accompanied a crazy person like Roger to the shrink every Friday out of good will and dragged him into the forest, along with two possible one-night-stands, just to prove … what? That the legendary village ghoul was crap?

I don’t where the sudden panic came from. I think it was a realization that this creature, the damned serial killer from the 1930’s everyone spoke of, really had returned to haunt this place. He was here, a lost soul, collecting other slicers … forever.

So I ran. Damn it, I ran like a scared ant threatened by a wasp.

“Roger?” I screamed, hearing my own voice echo out in the night. No answer, just silence and the panting of a beast behind me. As I ran, heading for the short-cut down the hill, I felt as if there was a puppet master above me pulling my strings, wanting me to run slower, so that the beast could pull me down and do his stuff with me.

And the puppet master was laughing. I realized how much of a victim I was. The exorcist in me wanted to scream for the beast to go to hell. The serial killer laughed. In the eyes of that killer, the Scott Glenn of darkness, I saw a truth untold.

Within that strange inspiration, I took a leap into the fog of the unkind night and ran, ran. I ran my ass off, knowing that I would never return if I stayed. I looked backward toward my own damnation, running through the darkness, and saw Eve’s blonde head hanging from the grasp of the throatslitcher’s hand. He was rather mobile for an immobile man.

“Leave me alone,” I hollered. “I don’t believe in you.”

I heard a shallow laugh protruding from his broken lips.

For the first time, the throat slicer spoke.

“But I believe in you.”

Then, the night opened its demonic darkness, showing its real face. I saw now how I had denied the supernatural its existance. I fell to my doom into a ditch, breaking my ankle, feeling as if three sharp knives had been shoved into my foot. My mortal judge, whose existence I had denied, now stood over me, panting, licking his lips, telling me that he had killed as many people as there were ants, and was driven to kill unbelievers, again and again. Unbelievers like me.

Before the slicer raised his knife in order to behead me, I saw Wendy’s head resting on the patch behind, bloody, bodyless, doomed, dripping. Roger? He stood next to the beast, chuckling, caressing the crack in his throat that had been created a moment before.

Wendy’s head opened its eyes, gazing at me with an emptiness that made me feel as if I were gazing into a galactic black hole. Eve’s chopped off head opened its eyes, hanging from the killer’s hand. The Slicer, along with my three friends all opened their eyes so wide that I felt I was looking at marbles swimming in white seas.

Before they raised their hands in hatred, they cackled.

And an army of lost souls appeared behind them.

And hundred slicers on their way to the underworld.

I don’t know where the knife came from, but suddenly it lay there beside me.

I grabbed it, looking up at my victimizer, giving him the benefit of the doubt. His expression changed from one rather nasty to one scared. Hard to say what powers that be help you when you are need of help, but I managed to get up, even with my broken ankle, raising that big machete knife. Almost on its own, I raised the knife and sliced off the ghouls head.

Weird. Really weird. The crowd behind the ghoul, including Eve, Wendy and Roger, they all laughed. Those with bodies applauded, some hooted, some even screamed: “Way to go, bro!” Me, I followed the head as it flew across the ditch, landing on the other side of that stone covered with moss.

It was then that I woke, startled, hearing a buzzing noise. I blinked into the flickering light of the television set, panting a few times. I turned to my left side, finding an alarm clock that usually rested on my night-time table. Why was my alarm clock in the living room? That didn’t make sense.

3:03 a.m.

I sighed, putting my hand on that damn thing, causing it to stop buzzing.

Why was I here?

Disoriented, I tried to recall where I had been last night. In the forest? Yes, right. I had been there. I couldn’t recall how I got home, though. Damn it, hadn’t I fought with Roger. The girls? They had left, too, right? Or hadn’t they?

The horror flick that flashed on a screen reminded me of “The Exorcist”, but it seemed to be a strange and cheap rip-off. So I walked up and turned the TV off, nodding to myself, searching my mind for answers. I saw empty beercans, paper bags with chili left-overs, a used condom. What? Had I been so drunk that I hadn’t remembered humping Eve?

I now shook my head, walking out of the living-room, blaming myself for taking three rowdy 18-year-olds to Greenbush Forest in the first place. Okay, I wasn’t that much older, just five years their senior, but still … I had felt close to that loudmouth Roger, that in spite of his ridiculous attempts to give me trouble. Had he really been beheaded? No. I shook my head. Silly me. I must’ve had a few beers too many, imagined the whole thing and fell asleep in front of the couch. And Eve, well, a lot of people blamed me for trying to seduce someone barely even out of high school.

That must’ve been it. I had dreamt the damn thing. The whole thing. But hadn’t I planned this whole thing to the last detail? Hadn’t we set up a time? Hadn’t Eve and I fought about this thing last night? Hadn’t she told me she wished she had never met me?

I wandered into my cute little kitchen, reaching for the fridge door.

It’s funny, though, how you sometimes have premonitions. Even people like me who never have believed in ghosts, the weird sensation that something is amiss becomes so eerie that shivers run down our backs and our fear becomes as bottomless as the cold northern Atlantic into which the Titanic sank.

I opened the fridge door, hoping to find another light beer.

What was there on one of my mother’s old flowery plates looked like Scott Glenn on a very bad day. The thing flashed its fangs, its beheaded skull now screaming at me. Petrified, multiple shivers now running not only down my back but all across my body, I took a step back. I hit something, my still living body bumping into a person. Person?

I fumbled behind me, my shivering hand finding long fingernails, festering wounds and warts. And as I turned around, I saw a headless killer holding a large machete knife. Behind him, three youngsters with lengthy slices across their throats, grinning from ear to ear.

“Do you believe in ghosts now, Frank?” the fat boy behind the killer asked me.

It was then that I realized I had never left the forest at all.

I was back in the ditch in a changed reality, in a darkness that I knew to be my future.

I then realized that my mother had been right about me choosing younger friends because the ones my age seemed too threatening. And when I came to, I saw a knife heading for my throat. Before it reached me, I heard Eve’s head chuckle and swoon.

“We’re going to have such fun slicing throats, Frank,” she said. “And you can lead the way, just like you always do. Roger’s waiting … he thinks you will make a wonderful shrink.”

And then, everything went black.

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