Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ghost Story

 Genre: Horror

Daniel Skye A.K.A. Randy Benivegna 

Dead man’s breath.
Ever walk out to your car in the morning and see fog built up on your windshield? When you open the door, you realize the fog is on the inside of your car, not the outside. Well, that’s what they call it; dead man’s breath.
Who are they? Paranormal researchers and investigators, of course. They want to convince you that when you see this fog, it’s a sign that a ghost was or still is present inside your vehicle.
How can a ghost fog up my windows? Daryl Morgan always wondered. If you’re dead–and even if you are a ghost–you would have no breath. No pulse or heartbeat either. You would be nothing more than an exanimated reflection of the living.
Daryl loved debunking the theories and rumors these so-called paranormal experts circulate. But he never did so publicly. It made no sense to ruin the mystique when his very career depended on it. But every time he crossed paths with one of his colleagues, he made sure to step on their work and their beliefs as much as possible. To say he was not popular amongst the writing community would be like pointing out the sky is blue. Everyone knew it, even Daryl. He couldn't accept the fact that other people liked to believe in the possibility of any form of life after their death.
Daryl Morgan was not an atheist or an agnostic. He was a nihilist. He never believed in God or supported any form of organized religion. Ask him for a church donation and he’d hand you a used Kleenex.
Being a nihilist made Daryl the ideal candidate for his job. If you don’t believe in God, it's unlikely you believe in ghosts or spirits. Therefore, he wouldn't shy away from the job like others had before him. And Daryl didn’t shy. No assignment was too scary, too creepy, too unnerving. It was all the same to him. Drive in, spend the night, write a story, cash the check and then repeat the formula.
Morgan was paid weekly by a group of wealthy publishers to investigate allegedly haunted sites and then write about his experiences. Mostly he just hyped up the legends, sold the mystique no matter what results his investigations yielded.
He never reported any actual ghost sightings because he never actually experienced any. But he could still make your skin crawl with his vivid details and exaggerated accounts. After all, his readers weren’t reading for the truth. They were reading because they wanted cheap thrills and screams.
The concept of spirits never scared Daryl. The things that disturbed Daryl were the horrors that existed in the real world. Robbers, rapists, terrorists, computer hackers, identity thieves, the crumbling economy, the lingering threat of nuclear war. These thoughts are what made his heart race, his spine tingle. That and spiders.
The scariest story Daryl had been told growing up didn’t involve ghosts or spirits or paranormal activity. It was a variation of the old spider egg urban legend. You’ve heard that story about the guy who gets a spider bite on his cheek? The bite turns into a boil. The boil eventually pops and a horde of baby spiders come oozing out.
Knowing he was terrified of spiders, Daryl’s brother Tommy tormented him once with a story about a man who was sleeping comfortably when a hideous brown spider crawled into his open mouth. The next day, he starts getting these sharp pains in his gut that he mistakes for an ulcer or maybe a kidney stone. About a week later, they find the man dead in his apartment. A small tear in his stomach lining is discovered during the autopsy. The autopsy later confirms that the man’s internal organs were missing. The spider had laid eggs in his belly and the baby spiders had eaten him from the inside.
He thought about this story on many occasions, as he did on the way to his latest assignment.
Daryl checked in at eleven, giving himself a good hour to set up his infrared cameras and EMF meter. He wasn’t really into the gadgets and gimmicks, but his publishers insisted on recording everything and they paid for it all anyway.
Dorothy Carmody, the caretaker of Westlake Manor, was there that Tuesday night to greet Daryl at the gate and guide him through the acres of property. The manor was once a prominent symbol of the Westlake community, but the place hadn’t turned a profit in years. They were letting Daryl spend the night free of charge in the hopes that his story would get attention and attract more tourists.
“You’ll be staying on the fourth floor as you requested,” Mrs. Carmody said, handing him the key to room 411. “The plumbing doesn’t work too well up there so there’s a plunger if the toilet backs up and I wouldn’t recommend using the shower. If you do, turn it on and let the water heat up for a good fifteen minutes before you get in, otherwise it’ll feel like you’re showering with ice cubes.”
“Will do,” Daryl said, wondering why more people didn’t want to spend the night there.
“If you need drinking water, I have it in bottles. Whatever you do, don’t drink from the faucet.”
“I brought my own food and water. Anything else?”
“Yes, I have some leftover chocolate from Halloween if you’re interested. I don’t eat it and I’d hate to see it go to waste.” Daryl’s growing gut pleaded no, but his sweet tooth cried yes.
“That would be great,” he responded. “One more question: Is the room smoking or non-smoking?”
“There are no smoke alarms so feel free to smoke up the joint all you’d like. Just don’t go burning the whole place down on me.” Daryl grabbed Mrs. Carmody’s bag of chocolate and dragged it along with his other luggage. The elevator was out of service, so he took the stairs.
The stairwell was eerily silent and he felt the vibes instantly. Actually, he had felt them as soon as he stepped foot inside Westlake Manor. But he shrugged it off the first time and told himself it was just indigestion. This time he could not deny the strange vibes that this place gave off.
Daryl wasn't the type to be startled. And if he was scared, you’d never witness it. His true emotions were hidden beneath intricate layers and he never used the word “fear” unless he was trying to sell a story to his readers. To ease his nerves, he gorged on some of the chocolate Mrs. Carmody had provided him. By the time he ascended all four flights of stairs, he had eaten the whole bag.
He approached room 411, inserted the key and heard the lock clock as he twisted it. He nudged the door and a musty odor rushed out at him. He flipped the lights on and saw the room–the bed, carpets, TV cabinet, writing desk–was coated with dust.
First thing Morgan did was peel back the sheets and blankets to inspect the bed for bugs. To his amazement, he found none. He checked out the bathroom, didn’t dare run the sink. There was a small shower stall, no bath. The shower curtains were old and ragged and Daryl didn’t even want to brush against them accidently. He couldn’t fathom the amount of germs and filth that had soaked into them over the years.
Once he set up the cameras and equipment, Daryl dusted off the chair of the writing desk and pulled a small spiral notebook from his luggage. He found an ashtray in the top drawer, lit one of his Marlboros and opened the notebook to the first page.
Daryl was sent to Westlake Manor on his publisher’s dime to write a new story for his latest book.
A story about the legend of Chloe Bell.
The legend dictates that Chloe Bell usually appears between midnight and four A.M., the peak hours for paranormal activity. A string of pearls laced around her thin, swanlike neck. Depending on who’s telling the story, she’s either wearing the cliché white dress or she’s decked out in an old cheerleading uniform, sans pom-poms. Her skin is described as being chalky but not transparent.
They say the ghost is more of a Samara than a Casper. She's not warm or friendly. She's everything you're afraid of boiled down into one. The tales vary but they do exist in many circles. Some people say she appears rotted, her features distorted and hidden behind locks of dirty black hair. Some claim that blood leaks out from the dry sockets of her pupil-less eyes. It oozes from her nose and ears. Snakes and maggots crawl from her mouth and slither across the carpets.
Then–in the blink of an eye–she vanishes and you find yourself alone and in desperate need of a fresh change of underwear.
There are hundreds of unfounded rumors surrounding her death, but when Morgan did an internet search, he couldn’t even scrape up proof that the girl had ever existed. The gossipers of the spirit world say she died on the night of her prom. Some believe that she was murdered on a family vacation. That she drowned in the in-ground pool out behind the manor. A popular rumor Daryl heard was that when they found Chloe, she was still alive. But someone had used a knife or razor to slash X's across her eyes, forever blinding her. For all Daryl knew, Chloe Bell had died in that very same room, though this morbid thought brought him no comfort. In fact, it made his whole body shiver.
            Morgan’s digital wristwatch buzzed soon, informing him it was midnight. He waited anxiously for the spirit of Chloe Bell to appear before him. He anticipated the apparition rising from the floor, the string of pearls jingling around her neck like the sound of wind chimes. Her white dress caked in dirt and her dark hair flowing from the presence of some invisible force of air.
            But instead, his anxiety turned to boredom. All that changed was now he had a belly ache from wolfing down too much candy and chocolate. Nausea soon set in and Daryl sprung from his chair to make it to the bathroom in time.
            Leaned over the toilet, he gagged and heaved as he tried to force the rotten sweets out of him. Never take candy from strangers, Daryl thought.
            Then he felt it. That unsettling vibe had returned. The air was thick and he could feel it circulating, almost creeping around him. A chill rushed down his spine and he felt something brush the small of his back.
            When he raised his head from the toilet, he saw a brief flash in the mirror. All his eyes made out were a string of dirty white pearls. He blinked and the image was gone, the mirror reflecting nothing but Daryl's subtle expression of terror.
            Daryl stumbled from the bathroom in a dizzy state, his stomach gurgling as he slumped on the edge of the bed. Black and white dots clouded his vision, and the room seemed to shrink or grow wider every time he blinked or rubbed his eyes. His eyes shifted to the floor and he recoiled at the sight.
            The girl was inches from the bed.
She crawled along the floral carpet, her arms and legs twisted and disjointed to form angular positions, giving her the flexibility and motions of a human spider. Her white dress was tattered and dirt-stained, her pearls as dark and grimy as the hair that obscured parts of her face. Unfortunately for Daryl, the hair did not obscure the scar tissue of the X’s that had been carved over her eyes.
Daryl tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge. He could feel something causing the resistance, perhaps a chair or object wedged under the doorknob. The girl moved closer, her lips parted but no words escaped. Only deep growls rising up from her throat.
The room grew smaller again, closing in on him. Daryl’s need to escape overwhelmed him. He made his move without even considering it twice.
The window shattered and Morgan plunged some thirty-five feet below, his neck snapping upon impact.

Dorothy Carmody discovered Morgan's body in the morning, the pavement stained with fresh blood and shards of glass.
“Never take candy from strangers,” she remarked shrewdly.
Dorothy Carmody had played her part well, done her job to perfection. By spiking the chocolate with powerful hallucinogens and making Daryl see what his mind refused to believe, she had succeeded in literally scaring Daryl Morgan to death. And the business would flourish as a result. Every hack horror writer would scribble a tale about Westlake Manor and the ghost that killed Daryl Morgan, the man who believed in nothing. Those ghost hunting reality shows would line up in droves to get the opportunity to film there. Every psychic and medium in the country would flock there and attempt to channel the spirit of Chloe Bell. And the ghost-obsessed tourists would surely follow.
Despised by his peers for spurning their beliefs, Daryl's death would not be viewed as a tragedy. It would be viewed as a horror story for the ages. And the legend of Chloe Bell would live on in infamy.

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