Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
I returned to Cloverdale after seven years abroad to view a total eclipse of the sun and stepped in some trouble … now I was rolling in it. The special tinted glasses I bought from Ted Burlap at his second hand store somehow were allowing me to see what I called Negatives … a nice name for ghosts. The lingering dead seemed to be everywhere. Although invisible without the glasses, yet somehow they caused physical things to happen in our world. Two sinister looking weapon-wielding Negatives, who looked like they might have come from China or another Asian country before they died, had slipped into the backseat of Susan Demotte’s car. She and her seven-year old boy, who was probably my son, looked to be in grave danger. Susan was the reason I’d left. At the time, I didn’t even know she was pregnant.
It was two blocks to where I’d left the rental car. I ran all the way. I passed two cars and a truck on Townsend before I turned the Nissan Altima south on Wallace and flew over the river bridge in the direction I’d seen Susan go. This was the section of Cloverdale people called the Aluminum farm, five acres of dilapidated single-wide trailer houses, crammed together with fences made of used tires, broken stoves, refrigerators or any other bulky appliance left to rust in someone’s front yard. A chronically drunk Fred Hicks owned the former landfill and his only rule was your Pit Bull had better be tied-up when he came to collect the rent.
I finally spied the rusted maroon 1974 Chevy Malibu parked in front of a tiny trailer next to the river. There was one of those white foam balls you get from Jack-In-the-box attached to the radio antenna. There was no tire fence or broken appliance in the front yard and it looked like she’d been mowing the grass. A neighbor’s caged Shitsu dog was warning everyone about strangers. There were red and yellow tulips growing alongside tomatoes in a bed bordered with river rock next to the wooden steps. I couldn’t see a weed anywhere. The doorbell was hanging from a broken wire so I knocked … but not as loud as I could have. My heart was thumping in my chest. Was I hoping she wouldn’t be home? I saw the curtains move slightly as someone looked out. I could hear doors opening and slamming shut about every thirty seconds. I heard a crash followed by a female cursing.
Two minutes later Susan flung open the door. I could see a few loose strands on her shoulder where she’d brushed her hair and her face was still damp in places. She was wearing a low-cut white lacey sweater that showed off her green eyes and she was still tugging it down. My nose stung from the Versace Bright Crystal perfume, but she still took my breath away. She must have spilled some. “What do you want?” She was glaring and looked ready to punch me. I didn’t blame her; that man-enslaving mist is over ten dollars an ounce.
I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to say and I struggled to come up with some kind of an explanation. People always insist truth is the best option, but in this case they were wrong … they would think I was crazy. Hell! I thought I was crazy! I settled for a half-truth. “I saw two bad people following you … I thought you might be in danger!” I tried to look past her into her house and then realized I wasn’t wearing the eclipse glasses. I quickly put them on.
“Are you stoned?” her hands were on her hips and I could see a faint trace of a smile becoming a smirk on her lips as she stared. “It’s not that bright out and my house is actually pretty dark inside.” She put her foot out as if she expected me to dive for the couch and then leaned forward and sniffed probably to see if I’d been smoking anything. I’m sure I didn’t smell as good as she did.
“I’ve got something going on with my eyes,” I explained, trying to look over her shoulder. Holes in an old stuffed couch had been covered with a blanket. A round glass table held fresh-cut flowers in an empty Pepsi bottle.
“Bad people? Following me?” She looked up and down the street and then smiled. “It looks like you’re alone!”
The sarcasm wasn’t lost on me. I was trying to think of what to say when she turned and yelled. “Jackie come here. Someone wants to see you!” Her eyes looked like yellow stop- lights about to go red as she turned back to me. It was a warning without words. “Is this why you came?” A quiet boy with blonde hair and brown eyes the color of my own scampered up and stood partly behind her.
“Hi,” I said as the kid stared at me. I felt suddenly uncomfortable and turned to Susan. “He looks like you!”
“Hi,” the boy said and then tugged at his mother. “Can I play out back if I promise not to go by the water?’
“Sure,” she told him. “But be careful …and no throwing rocks at Mrs. Brown’s cats!”
Her eyes followed him as he turned and ran. I heard another door open and slam and then she was looking at me again. “He also looks like you, but you’re not his father, Jack. At least not in the right way. It takes more than ten minutes in the back seat of a car to make a person a parent!”
“I’m sorry Susan,” I said. “If I’d known … I’d never have left.”
“It’s just as well.” Susan sighed. Her eyes were suddenly sad. “I left my dreams in my pants’ pocket and they went through the wash.”
I saw the look of determination come into her eyes that I remembered from years before. “Jackie is all I have,” she said. “I hope you haven’t come here to try to take him away from me!”
“No I haven’t,” I stammered. “I didn’t know … I was just worried about you.”
She shrugged her shoulders as if she wanted to believe me. “What did these bad people look like?”
“Orientals,” I told her. “They looked like they might have come from China!”
This time her smile was toothpaste commercial bright. “There’s a new Tai restaurant in town … perhaps they had the wrong take-out address.”
She slammed the door in my face. The neighbor’s Shitsu was still yapping. I saw at least a dozen cats race across the grass as I walked to my car. “I get the message!’ I said. “I’m going!”
Susan didn’t believe me, but I knew she was in danger. Ted Burlap said he’d bought the glasses from Joseph Callahan’s estate sale. The old man was dead but his son Egbert ran the local mortuary. I hoped he could tell me what was going on. On A Cloud Garden occupies an entire block on the south east corner of Meghan Way and Garlow streets. The outside of the massive stucco building is spectacular, with exotic flora imported from all over the world. The interior is even more impressive.
There was no doorbell and the huge intricately carved black walnut door was unlocked so I went inside. On the far side of an elegant sitting room with walls, furniture and carpeting all a glistening white, round top mahogany doors opened into a two-acre indoor garden that took your breath away. A magnificent waterfall cascaded from a clear domed ceiling more than thirty feet high into a pool surrounded by a forest of rare Moth orchids. The fragrance was like synthesized euphoria. Dark rock expertly mixed with lush green foliage made you feel like you were walking in a high mountain meadow. A white mist rose everywhere from the ground and made you feel like you were walking on clouds. The vapors were strangely cold and seemed to stimulate the senses. I was suddenly alert and ravenously hungry as I crossed a fairytale bridge, spanning a gurgling stream filled with jumping Arowana fish, and saw a Japanese woman cutting black roses with a knife. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to intrude,” I said. “I’m looking for Mr. Callahan. Is he here today?” The kimono wearing gardener gestured toward an elevator door hidden behind a grove of Yucca Rostrata palm trees, without looking at me, and then she pointed down. There were just two buttons on the inside of the elevator one with an arrow pointing up and one pointing down … I pushed down.
I heard the tiny steam-whistle blast as soon as the elevator door opened. A miniature HO scale locomotive with the number 419 printed in white below the cab window and pulling a tinder car and several passenger cars roared out of a tunnel built into a wall that looked like the side of a mountain. The tiny train rumbled past miniature farm ground expertly detailed with tiny barns, trees and farm animals. I thought I recognized Porter’s Pig farm complete with a rusted ‘48 flatbed Ford truck that had set in a patch of weeds for years and was bent over the table top layout studying the intricately detailed buildings behind it when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Egbert Callahan smiled. “Looks almost real doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” I gasped. “I worked on the Porter farm one summer and that dented tin pail hanging on the rail fence is the same one I used to feed chickens with!”
“There was a tiny hole in the bottom of the bucket and you used to leave a little trail of grain wherever you walked,” Egbert pointed.
“Wow!” I had to put my nose almost on the fake ground but I could see tiny lines of spilled grain in the fake dust.”
“When it comes to modeling detail is everything,” Egbert told me.
We watched as the tiny train rushed past several farms and then entered another tunnel hole in the wall. “Excuse me,” Egbert said. “But whenever the 419 is running I have to keep a close watch.” I followed him through a doorway down a long hallway and into a much larger room. A minute or so later the train roared through a miniature replica of Cloverdale so detailed I could see sheets hanging on the clothesline behind Mrs. Dern’s house.
“This is incredible!” I gushed. “How long did it take you to build this?”
“My father Joseph began the layout in 1919,” Egbert said. “Almost every spot in Comanche County is shown in intricate detail. But the work is never done. Old building fall down or are burned … and new ones are built.” Egbert put his hands behind his back and turned his head to one side. “But enough about me and my pleasures. What can I help you with?”
I took the strange spectacles from my pocket and showed them to him. “I just got back in town,” I said, “and I bought these eclipse viewing glasses from Ted Burlap. He said they came from your father’s estate sale!” Egbert took the glasses from me and turned the lenses at angles to the light. “They look like they’ll block about 99% of the sun’s harmful rays … what’s your problem?”
“When I put them on outside I can see what looks like dead people walking around making bad things happen to the living! I’ve been calling them negatives.”
“Oh that,” Egbert said. “I seem to remember my father had a certain morbid fascination with the Lingerlings.”
“Is that what you call these ghost like creatures I’ve been seeing?”
“That was my father’s name for them but I like yours better … Negatives … that name
seems more appropriate doesn’t it?”
“What are they? And how can I stop them from harming people?”
“Lingerlings … or Negatives are the remnants of the deceased that linger long after their souls should have departed for other worlds. They are powered by sunlight and can only operate outdoors during daytime. They often follow someone for weeks before they attack. My father had the glasses special made to locate a Negative who was especially troubling to him. One of my father’s enemies who continued to attack him, his friends, and his business ventures, even after death.”
“Was your father successful … did he force the Negative to move on?”
“I believe he did,” Egbert said. “But it wasn’t easy. The conditions have to be just right and you must use ethereal salts to dissolve the lingering spirit.”
“I’ve never heard of ethereal salts. What are they?”
“They are what remains when the life force the Chinese call Chi leaves a dead person or animal’s body. They are very difficult to gather and must be used correctly.”
“Is there anyone in Cloverdale who could help me get some?”
“You seem especially worried. Are you afraid that a Negative is planning to do you harm?’
“Not me … an old girlfriend … actually the mother of my child. I saw two very sinister looking Negatives climb into the back seat of her car.”
“That is troubling,” Egbert said. “But you must remember not all Negatives are bad … some actually are here to help the living.”
“I’m sure,” I told him. “One was carrying a butcher knife and the other an ice pick.”
“I believe Mayor Otter’s young daughter and her friends have acquired some ethereal salts from rotting corpses,” Egbert said, “although I don’t know exactly what they use it for.”
“I saw Joanie when I first got into town,” I told him. “Do you know where I can find her?”
Egbert turned and I followed him into another room. On the other side of a miniature four story building that had to be State Hospital North lay Black Rose Cemetery exhaustingly recreated to show every tree, bush and tombstone. A group of miniature teens all wearing black stood next to what looked like an open grave. “Joanie and her Cloverbone Goth group are in Black Rose Cemetery until a little after midnight,” Egbert said. “If you hurry you might still catch them there!”
Suddenly the tiny train chugged to a stop at a tiny house just outside of town. Egbert and I watched as a wraithlike figure leaped from the train and ran toward the hose. Moments later we watched the dark figure drag an old woman toward the train. “Mrs. Evans!” Egbert gasped. “I knew when the train started up someone was about to die. I never dreamed it would be her. She’s only seventy-eight I believe. But I guess we all have to go sometime.” He pulled a small appointment book from his coat pocket and began to thumb through the pages. “We can probably have her funeral on Wednesday. I’d better notify the cemetery sexton.”
I thought it was strange that Egbert said I should hurry until I looked at my watch. It was eleven thirty PM. I’d been in On A Cloud Garden for almost nine hours. “You said that in order for the ethereal salts to work conditions have to be just right!” I called to Egbert as I ran toward the elevator. “What are these conditions?”
“Why a total eclipse of the sun,” Egbert said putting his appointment book back in his pocket. “It’s the only time Negatives are inactive long enough to salt them.”
Ten minutes later, I had the rental car flying down Vineyard Road. The eclipse was in two days … I had one chance to save Susan.
The moon was almost full and hovered like a huge red ball in the night sky. People in the know say it’s because of smoke in the air. A massive forest fire or two must be burning somewhere. The cast iron gates were open at Black Rose Cemetery, but I turned off my headlights and parked outside. If Joanie and her friends were in there I didn’t want to scare them away. I walked past rows of tombstones glowing white under the light from the moon and the reddish tint made the night breeze blowing the withered grass look like they were floating in a sea of blood. I stopped several times and put on the eclipse glasses sure I would see hundreds of spirits crowding the cemetery. There was nothing. Then I remembered Egbert saying the Negatives were powered by the sun and only came out in daylight. I tried to laugh but it was hard. As a kid we had it all wrong. We were always afraid to walk through a cemetery at night … but it was daytime we should have been wary of.
I was nearing the back of the graveyard when I heard what sounded like low chanting. I fell to the ground and began to crawl … not sure if Cloverbone would welcome an intrusion.
Dooba Nanbean … go ra sin.
Open Hell and let us in.
We’ve been bad … you must agree.
Let us seek our destiny.
Dooba Gonwat … bla da guy.
Let the angels pass us by.
We wait for shadows … come at night.
Wait for pleasures … of your bite.
Under the dim light I could just make out a group of dark clad figures crouching next to the ground. Several of the figures raised what looked like hammers high in the air. I heard a girl’s terrified scream that caused my blood to run cold quickly followed by three more. I watched horror-stricken as the dark figures raised a huge wooden-beam X from the ground and braced it with large rocks. The only sound was low moans of agony and the sound of something dripping into the grass.
A naked Joanie Otter hung upside down, high in the air, crucified with her bleeding arms and legs nailed to the center of the structure.
TO BE CONTINUED …