KARL KOWESKI

Nick wanted to see a ghost

          Dan just wanted to get fucked up. And he figured he had everything he
needed to accomplish this mission right here in his bedroom. A half case of
Coors Lite chilled with a bag of ice. A quarter ounce of the best Mexican
ditch weed the town had to offer kept company with his discolored skivvies
in his underwear drawer. No one needed to go anywhere.

          “Smoke another bowl. Then stare at this here Danzig CD case. See how
those alien snake things move?”

          Nick was unimpressed. He’d smoked enough bowls and stared at enough CD
covers and posters taped to the walls to see all kinds of weird shit. He’d
just never seen any ghosts.

          “So where you wanna go?” Dan asked. “It’s not like you can just flip open
your phone and order a ghost like a pizza.”

          Actually, it seemed that easy in the Michael Keaton movie Nick watched last
night. He kept his own counsel there. The last thing he needed was a
half-stoned lecture on the differences between Hollywood and reality from a
dude who modeled his life after Cheech and Chong.

          “Then again,” Dan continued, “we could sneak into Holy Cross Cemetery. You
wanna see a ghost, that’d be the place to go.”

          “It’s one o’clock in the morning.”

          “I don’t think you’re gonna find too many ghosts during business hours.”

          “I’m just saying, you know, the gates are gonna be locked.”

          Dan looked at Nick as though he’d just lost his mind. “We just climb the
fence, dumbass. Half the fence ain’t even got barbed wire any more.”

          “I know. I know. I drive past that cemetery every day. I’m just saying
we ain’t gotta go if you don’t want to. We could turn the tv to an off
channel and commune with the dead through the white noise.”

          “Oh, fuck that. You watch too many movies. That’s why you can’t keep a
girlfriend. Now you wanna see a ghost or not?”

          It wasn’t lost on Nick that Dan’s question didn’t pertain to ghosts so much
as to his level of courage. Or the size of his balls as it were.

          “Hell yeah I wanna see a ghost. I’m the one who brought it up, remember?
You’re the one whining about staying in and smoking dope.”

          “Well I changed my mind.” Dan set down his ceramic dragon bong. “We’ll
pack ourselves a pic-a-nic basket and get in touch with the other side.”

          The picnic basket was actually a plastic bag from the Piggly Wiggly. It
contained their marijuana stash, three peach flavored White Owl cigars, six
cans of Coors, a bag of cool ranch Doritoes and a half pint of Jack Daniels.

          Dan locked the bag in the trunk of his ‘79 Buick Electra on the off chance
a cop might mistake them for minorities and pull them over. He’d been on a
good run lately in regard to avoiding entanglements with the law. Nick, on
the other hand, had been hit with three DUIs during the last three years.
Most of Nick’s unemployment check went toward paying fines and legal fees.
This untenable financial situation kept Nick firmly ensconced in his
parent’s home. Dan had no such expenditures. He lived with his mother
because he was shiftless and lazy.

          Nick consoled himself with the knowledge that what he lacked in money
he made up for with hairline. Regardless how much money Dan kept in his
wallet, he was still a twenty-five year old possessing the thinning hair of
a forty five year old. Dan dealt with his hair loss the way he dealt with
all his problems. Denial. Denial. Denial. Dan’s eyes could morph male
pattern baldness into a thatch of full, luxuriant hair and a three inch
penis into an eight inch cudgel. Sadly, Dan’s illusory eyesight didn’t
extend beyond himself. For example, when he looked at Nick, he saw a slouch
shouldered mama’s boy who’d never rise above entry level manual labor and
who’s one bright spot in his life’s bleak social desolation was his
friendship with Dan, the southside’s handsomest devil.

          The drive was quick and uneventful. Holy Cross Cemetery was sprawled
across twenty acres of Hammond’s southside, an area so destitute the
occasional mausoleum looked more comfortable (and expensive) than the
surrounding houses of the living.

          Dan considered parking in the vacant lot where the Tombstone Bar
and Grille once stood before it burned down, suspiciously, killing a handful
of drunks and, inexplicably, an itinerant mime. He thought better of it. An
alcoholic apparition was too much to handle, let alone a pantomiming
phantom. He opted instead to park his rattletrap Buick next to a well-lit
gas station half a block down.

          Nick grabbed the bag from the trunk and the duo made their way quickly
across the street. This offered the most exposure to traffic and they moved
as rapidly as they could without attracting any more attention than two guys
walking outside a cemetery after midnight with a bag of dope and booze would
ordinarily garner.

          After what felt like a small eternity, they turned the corner and hit the
side street looping around the cemetery’s rear. There were no streetlights
along this dark and dangerous stretch of road. They were shadows among
shadows.

          Here the fence was in disrepair. Dan scaled the fence without a problem.

          “Throw me the bag,” Dan hissed.

          “I got it.”

          Nick had studied the way Dan surmounted the fence and tried to
approximate his handholds and movement. Nick still managed to slice his hand
open at the top of the fence when the saucer-sized bald spot on the back of
Dan’s head arrested his attention, momentarily. The slashing pain brought his
mind back to the here and now, but not before the bag got caught in the V of
the chainlink fence. Before he could stop his downward momentum the bag
split open dumping its contents on either side of the fence.

          “Oh goddammit,” Dan said.

          Beer cans chunked against the ground like artillery fire called in by a
drunken grasshopper. The silver bullets didn’t concern Dan.

          “Where’d the dope go?”

          “Shit. I cut my hand.”

          “Where’s the fucking flashlight?”

          “I got it in my pocket.” Nick retrieved the flashlight and flicked it on.
It offered wicked red illumination. “Shit. Got blood on the lens. I’m
bleeding like a stuck pig.”

          Nick wiped the blood off the lens with his ICP shirt. The light swivelled
around revealing for a fraction of a second lightning quick movement ducking
behind the first row of granite tombstones.

          “Holy shit!”

          “What? What?” Dan kneeled in the grass, patting around for his lost
baggie.

          “I just saw something.” He played the light across the front row, the
tombstones jutting up like teeth along a massive jawbone.

          “You don’t gimme that flashlight so I can find my dope, you’ll be seeing me
kick your ass. I swear to god, if you spilled out all my weed, I’m gonna
jump kick you.”

          Nick shined the light across Dan’s bald pate. The bright reflection could
have been seen from Mars. How did a man with so little hair remain so
self-confident?

          Dan wrenched the flashlight from Nick’s grasp. “Gimme that and quit
playing games. What the fuck? You been using this as a Kotex?”

          “I cut my hand. I told you.”

          Dan ignored this and concentrated on sweeping the ground. He spotted the
bag of dope, still intact, only a foot away on the opposite side of the
fence. He didn’t figure he’d have to climb back over. He pulled the bottom
of the chainlink fence back and reached for the weed from a prone position
on his back.

          “I’m telling you, Dan. I saw two people over there.” He remained focused
on the rectangular hunks of granite he believed the figures ducked behind.
“Let me see the flashlight. They might be slipping away.”

          “Shut up and pull the fence back so I can get my shit.”

          “Look over there. I saw something.”

          Dan sighed and nonchalantly aimed the flashlight where Nick pointed.
“We’re here thirty seconds and you’re all ready turning pussy,” Dan
muttered. The wisp of hysteria in Nick’s voice put Dan on edge though he
was loathe to admit it. He didn’t doubt Nick saw... something. A squirrel
perhaps? The poor bastard was incapable of lying with a straight face.
Whereas Dan was the kung fu master of deception.

          There was also the fact that Dan had rented White Noise a week before.
While he scoffed at the gigantic plot holes and failures in logic... there
was no denying... ghosts are scary.

          “I’m not seeing anything, Nick.”

          “We’ll go closer.”

          “You go on. I’m gonna grab the dope and catch up with you.”

          “To hell with that. In that movie, them ghosts killed the hell out of
Michael Keaton.”

          Dan stretched on his back, his fingers tantalizingly close to his herb.
“For fuck’s sake. There ain’t been one documented murder by ghost in the
history of the world.”

          “You don’t know that.”

          “Ah ha! Got it.” Dan pulled the dope under the fence. “You’re ghosts can
kiss my ass. I’m gonna get blunt. Pass me a cigar.”

          Nick hand over a White Owl careful not to get his blood on it. He kept his
eyes trained on the tombstones. “I don’t think I’m going to be smoking
anything right now.”

          “Suit yourself. But I gotta say you should reconsider. You’re so high
strung right now I could tight rope walk across your ass.”

          Nick shrugged, cracked open a Coors Lite and downed half of it in one swig.
Dan expertly disemboweled the cigar and replaced its innards with
marijuana. He licked and pressed and stuck the end in his mouth, lighting
it with his Zippo in one deft motion. The first lung full felt like peace
in the Middle East.

          “A couple puffs of this, Nick, and you’ll be ready to explore Winchester
Manor.”

          Nick doubted it. He’d begun to figure what he saw was the result of an
overactive imagination that did not need any more fuel. He’d been seeing
things out of the corner of his eyes and flinching at shadows ever since he
first viewed the movie Poltergeist at the age of eight. Thanks to his
mother’s liberal views concerning cinema and child-rearing, Nick had come by
a healthy dose of fear regarding nuclear decimation, sadistic serial
killers, vengeful spirits and capsized luxury liners.

          Nick turned up his beer and something lurched out of the darkness. No
sounds accompanied the movement. No rustle of feet. Only a quick movement,
fleeting from one tombstone to the next, too fast to judge the size. A dog?
Abandoned in a cemetery... More likely the vengeful spirit of a sadistic
serial killer.

          “There it goes again. Didja see that?”

          Dan hopped to his feet, his peaceful interlude of introspection and
inhalation broken. “Where, Nick? Where?”

          “Over there.” Nick shined the flashlight. Nothing.

          Dan searched the immediate vicinity for a weapon, something to defend
himself from the army of apparitions Nick had lurking just out of eyeshot.
He came up with a pint of Jack Daniels. He took a nip and stuck the bottle
in his back pocket. With the blunt burning red in his mouth, Dan charged
into the darkness like a balding, two-eyed Nick Fury. Average, regular Nick
followed at what he deemed to be a safe distance, offering flashlight
support.

          “Hey you fucking ghosts,” Dan hollered. “Come out and smoke this blunt
with me. This shit’ll make you think you died and then gone to heaven,
rather than just hang out in a fucking cemetery.”

          Dan stopped at the first row of tombstones. Nick, wondering what the
hold-up was, approached warily. Dan leaned against a tombstone laughing at
his own wit.

          “Damn, that’s funny. I don’t care who you are.”

          “Git-R-Done,” Nick said.

          “Git-R-Done,” called a raspy voice two feet from Nick’s right.

          The proximity of the stranger’s voice startled them. Dan dropped the
blunt. Nick dropped the flashlight. Though their better instincts told
them to sprint for the fence, they simultaneously reached down for their
smoke and their light, respectively.

          Nick recovered first shining his light up into the cadaverous face looming
above him. Nick bit back a scream. The face laughed.

          Nick took a step back and reappraised the situation. The dude wasn’t much
older than Nick or Dan. He wore a pair of loose-fitting jeans, an Iced
Earth T-shirt and combat boots. He wore a boggan over curly hair that
looped around his ears and neck. He sported a goatee that wanted to spread
into a beard. For all intents and purposes, he looked like Nick and Dan.

          “You said you had a blunt?” The dude asked.

          Mechanically, Dan handed it over. The dude blew off the ash and took a
long toke. “Hey Shady,” he wheezed. “Come on out. It’s cool.” He passed
the blunt back to Dan. “Hell, man, we thought you guys were 5-0.”

          Dan and Nick smiled, still pale and trembling. “We thought... We thought
you guys were cops too.”

          The dude called Shady stepped out of the shadows of a family monument. He
looked no different than any of them except his hair had been peroxided
blonde in what use to be the fashion.

          “This is Shady. My name’s Neal. What the hell you guys doing in the
cemetery this time of night?”

          Dan introduced himself and Nick, passed the blunt to Shady.

          “Same thing you guys are doing I guess.”

          Neal nodded. “Yeah. This is the closest thing we got to nature around
here. The law keeps the parks patrolled, you know? Out here, no one
bothers you. Fact is, you’re the first guys we’ve seen since we started
coming here.”

          “We’d match you guys on the dope but it’s been dry, lately,” Shady added,
sucking the life out of the blunt.

          Dan could relate. He’d just come off a week long dry spell himself during
which he’d almost attempted to smoke banana peels. A bad time.

          “You guys want a beer?” Nick asked.

          “Nah. Hate beer,” Neal said. “Can’t even stand the taste.”

          Nick looked crestfallen. How could anyone dislike the taste of beer? Neal
favored him with a friendly smile and slipped him the blunt. “Besides,”
Neal added. “Pot’s better for you. Easier on the ole liver. We don’t
wanna end up here before our time. Know what I mean?”

          “I hear you,” Nick said thinking his liver should be good for at least
another thirty years of continuous boozing.

          A pair of headlights appeared a mile down the side road, the opposite
direction from which they come. Nick and Dan hunkered down behind the
tombstones alongside Neal and Shady. Nick extinguished the flashlight
trying not to think about the corpse reposing six feet below him. Dan relit
the blunt and passed it to his right. While it burned, Dan prepared
another.

          Nick peered into the darkness, studying the architecture of
tombstones, monuments and mausoleums creating a dark skyline in a dark
world.

          “I don’t know why the fuck we came here,” Nick muttered.

          “You wanted to see a ghost, remember?” Dan said.

          Nick immediately felt a blush coming on before Neal and Shady began
guffawing.

          “A ghost?” Neal choked out a plume of pungent smoke. “Here?”

          Nick smiled at his own foolishness. “I just wanted to get out of the
house.”

          “Shit,” Dan said. “You should have seen the look on your face when you saw
them dudes moving around. ‘There’s something out there, Dan!’ Like a little
bitch.”

          Neal and Shady laughed. Dan presented the newly constructed blunt. Nick
passed it along without partaking. The giggles continued. Nick glanced
over the tombstone, seeing if the coast was clear. He wanted the comfort of
the flashlight’s beam, regardless. The headlights up the road had yet to
move.

          “What the hell?”

          The laughter subsided.

          Dan perked up. “What? What the hell is it now?” He peeked over the
granite.

          Another set of headlights appeared at the opposite end of the road. Dan
and Nick exchanged raised eyebrows. The headlights on either end of the
road began moving toward each other, gaining speed, as though they were set
to joust. Obviously not cops... Probably a couple dumb kids. Nick felt
compelled to watch. Something was wrong here.

          The headlights met forty yards up the road from where they had scaled the
fence. There was a strangely muted squeal of brakes and locked tires
skidding across asphalt. The collision made an implosive boom followed by a
battle of competing sounds. Glass shattering, headlights exploding, metal
and fiberglass crunching and straining and shifting. With the headlights
decimated, darkness shrouded the accident.

          Nick and Dan jumped to their feet.

          “Holy shit, didja see that?”

          They glanced down to see what Neal and Shady had to say.

          “Guys?”

          “Where’d they go?”

          The smoldering blunt sat on the ground where the two dudes had been
squatting down.

          Nick didn’t exactly become aware he was running until he hit the fence.
Dan, who took a moment to grab the blunt, was a couple steps behind. Nick
might have touched the fence twice as he scampered over. Of course, he
still managed to reopen his slashed palm.

          He aimed the flashlight in the direction of the accident. Nothing. No
wrecked automobiles. No twisted metal hulks. Only skid marks and the
twinkling of crushed glass swept to the curb.

          Back at the Buick with the streetlights offering mild sanctuary, Dan
offered his take on what had just happened. “Those dudes sure took off in a
hurry when we thought we heard and seen that accident, ain’t it?”

          Nick nipped at his Coors Lite. Better he thought not to even talk about
it. He buckled his seat belt as Dan turned onto the boulevard.

          “Yeah,” Dan said. “They probably wanted to get the hell out of there, you
know? I don’t blame them. I wanted to get the hell out of there, too.”

Karl Koweski is a thirty year old displaced Chicagoan now living on top of a
mountain in Alabama. He's been published throughout the small press and internet
and in such places as Hustler Fantasies, Swank, Night Terrors and in anthologies
like "It's All Good" from Manic D Press and "Trip the Light Fantastic".

He has a collection of stories "Playthings" out through Future Tense Press and
several poetry chapbooks, most recently "Can't Kill A Man Born To Hang" published
by Bottle of Smoke Press.







© 2005 Underground Voices