Daily Thoughts 135: A Need for Sleep

I need to get some sleep. I ended up worn out today. Errands, a little light yard work, and studying; I shouldn’t feel so tired. I’d thought I’d stay up to complete some assignments tonight. Instead, I’m going to get some sleep and push to get them done tomorrow when I’m more alert. They’re partially done. I should be able to finish.

On a Dare

On a Dare Cover Art

Tina Grimes. Aka, Death Hunter or Ghost Breaker. Savior to some, devil to others.

Until now, she refused to share her origin story. When asked, she dismissed the question. Not important.

Now she reveals the story, a story that answers few questions, a short answer on how she got started. Flatly, on a dare.

💀

People often ask me how I got my start. I wasn’t always like this.

In 2003, I was twenty-two years old, Tina Grimes. Not the Death Hunter, the Ghost Breaker. Nothing like the hardened and scarred woman I have become now.

Take highway 101 down the Washington coast. A little way past Raymond, in South Bend. A small fishing town along the Willapa River known for its oysters. That’s where it began, on Halloween night, of all things.

I’d gone there with two of my friends, Brianna and Kayla. The dare was Kayla’s idea. She loved horror movies. Her big idea for Halloween was to dare us to watch a horror movie marathon in an actual haunted house. Just the three of us. And we were crazy enough to go along with it.

How different would things have turned out for us, if we hadn’t dared? Since graduation, we’d been drifting apart and I think we all knew it was one of the few chances we’d have to spend together like this.

And it was hard to resist Kayla.

She was a year younger, a petite pixie of a girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She always said she got her mother’s coloring and her father’s short stature, but she didn’t actually know the truth. She’d never known her parents, orphaned on the way home from the hospital after birth when the car was hit by a drunk driver behind the wheel of a heavy duty pickup. Both parents died, and she ended up in an orphanage.

At the time I didn’t understand how she hadn’t ever been adopted. She was impossibly cute, had no end of guys asking her out. She must have been the cutest baby ever, and yet was never at home anywhere.

Brianna, was dark in contrast, with big dark eyes like pools of night. Her hair, too, was a mass of curls that had a mind of their own. She was the tallest of us three, even taller than me at five foot eight. In heels, she might have been striking if she wasn’t so ungainly and awkward, with a laugh like a donkey. Not that we’d ever say that—we loved her and her laugh.

The house Kayla had found stood in the hills above the town, back up a dirt road that switchbacked up the hill. If it hadn’t been surrounded by tall Douglas firs, it might have had a lovely view of the river and the town below. Instead, it was cut off and buried deep beneath the dark branches.

Kayla drove us to the place, hunched up over the wheel of her little red VW Beetle. She kept giggling.

“You’re going to love it,” she promised as we turned into the drive. “It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect!”

At last, she turned up a weedy drive, splashing through puddles from the rain the night before. It wasn’t even five o’clock yet, and already dark with thick gray clouds above and the smell of new rain in the air.

The Beetle’s headlights speared ahead, lighting up only trees and a drive that was looking like no one had been up it in years. A thin tree hung across the drive, hung up in the trees on the sides.

In the passenger seat Brianna, twisted her head, leaning forward as the Beetle passed beneath. Safe on the other side, she slumped back into her seat.

Brianna looked at Kayla. “You realize that this is exactly the sort of place that people always go in horror movies and end up stalked by a crazed killer?”

Kayla’s teeth flashed white in the dim interior. “I know! Isn’t it perfect?”

The trees pulled back, only slightly, and we saw the house. I don’t think it was ever a pretty house. It stood two stories tall, the spine of the roof slumped now, shingles covered in moss, branches, and debris. Windows boarded up. Nothing decorative about the place. It was grayed with age and weather.

“Okay, that’s a spooky place,” Brianna said. “I’ll give you that much. It’s also probably full of black mold and asbestos. How about we go back, find a nice motel room and watch movies there? Motels are scary by default.”

Kayla shook her head as she pulled up in front of the house. “No way! This is perfect!”

“It probably leaks,” I said.

“That’s why I brought the tent, just in case,” Kayla said. “We can set it up inside.”

“Really?” Brianna said. “Why are we doing this?”

“I dared you, and you accepted.” Kayla shut off the engine. Darkness swallowed the car.

Brianna laughed, a hitching, nervous laugh. “Uh, guys. It’s like really dark! How are we going to see anything at all?”

A bright light clicked on, shining in Brianna’s face. She winced and held up her hands. Kayla laughed, waving the flashlight she held.

“They’re called flashlights? I’ve got more in back. Come on, let’s get the gear and get inside!”

💀

I don’t know how Kayla got the key to the place, I never found out. I don’t even know how she found it, but she did.

She let us in with a flourish. She threw open the door as if it opened onto a grand ballroom, while somehow holding onto the sleeping bag and tent that she carried. She had the straps from the camp chairs over her shoulders.

Brianna was right. It smelled like mold. Mold and piss and dust. Cobwebs and dust coated the floor and wallpaper peeled on the walls. The entry way was narrow and as gray as the exterior, everything swathed in dust as our flashlights flitted around the entry.

It wasn’t much of a foyer. There was a small space facing a narrow passage straight ahead, and a staircase rising up to the second floor. Off to our right was closed door, and to the left an archway into a front room.

Kayla bounced in and went straight for the stairs. I stepped in front of her, managing to hang onto the sleeping bags, and camp stove that I carried. It was hard hanging onto all of that, and manage the flashlight at the same time.

“Don’t think of going up there.”

She twisted around. “Why not?”

“How long has this place been empty? Let’s see. The stairs might give away. Or the floor. You could get hurt. We’re here, but let’s stay on the ground floor.”

“We can still leave,” Brianna said, moving into the archway. She carried the bags of food in her arms. Her light moving around the room. “There’s no furniture or anything!”

I joined her. She was right. The room was empty except cobwebs, dust, and some leaves. And pitch black except our lights. Another door stood open in the back corner, past the empty fireplace. Even if it’d been light out the room would have been dark with the boarded up windows.

Kayla joined us. “Look, there’s plenty of room. We can set up the tent, if you want. We’ve got camp chairs and the cook stove. Everything we need.”

The front door slammed shut.

We all screamed. Brianna dropped the food in a heap and rushed to the door, her eyes wide. For a second I thought it wouldn’t open. We’d be trapped.

I didn’t drop anything. Instead I was frozen in place, watching Brianna reach the door.

The door opened just fine, hinges groaning. She went out onto the porch, realized we weren’t following and turned her flashlight back on us.

“Why are you still in there?”

Kayla dropped the tent and sleeping bag. “I dared you. Remember what happens if you back out?”

“Oh, come on! The door closed on its own!”

“The wind,” Kayla said.

Brianna waved her arms. “There’s no wind! Let’s go!”

Kayla shook her head. One of the camp chair bags started to slip from her shoulder. She caught it, hitched it up and grabbed the tent. She dragged it through the dust into the empty room.

Brianna looked to me. “Tina, you’ve got to convince her.”

I couldn’t give a reason for it, but I didn’t want to. Between problems with my parents’ health, the prospect of finding a job still bleak months after graduating college, I wanted a fun night away from everything. I wanted to face imaginary bumps in the night with my friends, rather than another day trying to find a job.

I didn’t say that, even if it went through my head. “We took her dare. And I can’t afford to pay up if we back out.”

“This is seriously messed up,” Brianna said.

I smiled. “Maybe it’ll be fun? We’ve got marshmallows.”

“We can make s’mores!” Kayla was already pulling the tent out of its bag.

Brianna took a step closer. Her voice took on a pleading edge. “Really? We’re really going to do this?”

I looked at Kayla and she looked back. We shared something then, something I don’t think either of us was even conscious of yet. This started on a dare, but neither one of us was going to give it up.

How different would things be if we had?

💀

Thirty minutes later the room looked less grim, as long as you didn’t look away from the circle of light from Kayla’s portable DVD player sitting on top of a camp stool, in front of our chairs. The tent was behind us, the camp stove set up in the fireplace. We wouldn’t build a fire, the chimney was undoubtedly clogged from years without maintenance, but the place was drafty enough to risk using the stove indoors.

Kayla unzipped a DVD case holding a bunch of discs in sleeves. She collected horror movies. “What’s first? Friday the 13th? The Hills Have Eyes? Evil Dead?”

Brianna was huddled up in her sleeping back, sitting on the camp chair like a giant purple worm with only her head exposed.

“Don’t you have anything funny?”

“Evil Dead is funny,” Kayla said.

“It doesn’t sound funny.” The sleeping bag rustled as Brianna huddled deeper.

Kayla laughed. “Wait a minute. You haven’t seen it?”

“I haven seen any of those! You know I don’t like horror movies!”

“I know, but really? None of them?” Kayla laughed again.

I chuckled too, then said. “Let’s go easy on her. Night of the Living Dead.”

“That doesn’t sound easy,” Brianna said.

“Oh, it is.” Kayla flipped through the discs. “And it’s a classic. There’s so many references to it in other movies.”

“Maybe later we can watch Shaun of the Dead,” I suggested. “It’s funny.”

Kayla laughed again and pulled the Night of the Living Dead dvd from its sleeve. She did that with all of her movies, got rid of the packaging and kept them in cases. Easier to move, she said. She’d gotten an iPod earlier that year and had converted her CDs over to MP3s as well. It was only 2003. She never kept much, always ready to move.

Brianna’s gaze moved between the two of us. “You’re tricking me, aren’t you? This is scarier than the others, isn’t it?”

“It’s pretty scary,” I said. I crossed my legs and arms. “If you find being in an isolated old house surrounded by zombies scary.”

Brianna moaned, as Kayla laughed and the movie started.

💀

Half the fun of the marathon was watching Brianna hide her face like a little kid during the movie, and hearing Kayla’s laughter.

We’d watched about thirty minutes of the movie when a board creaked upstairs. Kayla’s laughter died. I sat up in my camp chair, planting my feet on the floor.

“Okay, I didn’t imagine that, did I?” Brianna asked.

We were all quiet. Listening.

“Old houses —” Kayla started to say.

Boards creaked again. The squeak and release of someone stepping on a board, then stepping off again. A footfall echoed through the roof, and another board creaked.

“Ohmygodtheressomeoneupthere!” Brianna said.

Kayla stood up. So did I, and then stopped. The next footstep hadn’t come. We waited, looking at each other in the flickering glow from the player’s screen. The sound effects from the movie weren’t helping.

I pointed. “Pause it.”

Kayla hit the button. The movie froze with Judith O’Dea clutching her head, face twisted.

Quiet settled in around us. I turned away from the light of the DVD player and clicked on my flashlight. The beam lit the dust in the air and hit the peeling wallpaper by the stairs. Nothing moved except those slow-floating motes.

Brianna whispered behind me. “We didn’t imagine it.”

“It’s just the movie,” Kayla said. “It spooked you, that’s all.”

The sleeping back rustled, making more noise than you’d expect. They’re like potato chip bags, except for people. Brianna’s feet were loud on the floor.

“We should go. Come on, it could be some crazy person up there!”

I knot of unease settled into my gut. Maybe there was someone up there. It’d be sensible to listen to Brianna and leave.

“It’s the movie, our imaginations, and an old house,” Kayla insisted.

“Who are you trying to convince?” Brianna asked.

Good question. I twisted around, turning the flashlight on them.

A person walked through the doorway past the fireplace. Walking away_ from us, as if they’d been standing in the room and were leaving. I only caught a glimpse, a bit of a pale arm and a pale leg.

A naked arm. Naked leg. A suggestion of a face with dark eyes, all of it gone before I could move the light over.

My friends saw it on my face when I aimed the flashlight at the doorway. My skin was cold.

“What is it?” Brianna turned on her light, pointing it at the doorway. Her light bounced around as her hand shook. “What did you see?”

“Stay here,” I said.

I didn’t say that I’d be right back as I pushed between them. I at least knew that much.

I also knew we weren’t alone. You’ve all felt it before, the difference between an empty room and one with someone else in it. You don’t have see the person. You can sit in a room with someone else, your backs to each other, silent, and still know that you’re not alone. With the right person, it is comforting.

This wasn’t a comforting feeling. We weren’t alone in the house. If Brianna had seen even that glimpse of what I saw she would have gone running from the house and probably wouldn’t have talked to us again.

She didn’t see it. Neither of them did. Kayla must have suspected something even though she didn’t say anything. She did move over next to Brianna and stood at her side. Both of them had their flashlights on my back so I kept mine down, pointed at the floor.

That’s why, when I turned the corner at the doorway, I saw her feet first. Maggot-pale and dirty, with cracked, bleeding toenails, just the feet at first, caught in the light while the shadows swallowed all but her silhouette standing there in the darkness.

I snapped the light up, catching her square in the face. She screamed into the light, blood-shot eyes wide. Her mouth was a dark, pit lined with bloodied cracked and broken teeth. Stringy hair hung down in mats around her dirt-lined face. The smell was rotten, decayed and thick.

My gut did somersaults and I held my ground the way you stay still when a vicious dog comes at you. Run, and they’ll get you.

“Is there anything there?” Brianna asked. “What do you see?”

The woman ducked her head, reaching up with filthy hands against the light. Her skin was pale beneath the dirt, fingernails as cracked and bloodied as her toenails. Her head twitched and shook. All of her twitched and convulsed with spasms. Her rolling eyes didn’t hold any sanity.

“Tina?” Kayla called. “You’re freaking Brianna out, come on. Joke’s over.”

The woman screamed again, blood-tinged spittle flying from cracked, peeling lips.

No answering screams from my friends. They didn’t hear her. It was obvious. If they had, they’d be screaming too, and running.

I held my ground, holding the light on her. I didn’t know what she was, I was acting on instinct.

“Kayla, Brianna, you need to get outside. Now.”

Kayla laughed. “Come on, Tina. Don’t —”

I turned a hair. Only a bit, still not taking my eyes off the woman, but that was enough. She growled and ran at me, her bare feet slapping the floor.

When she got close enough she shoved me. I reacted too slow to get my arms up. Her momentum knocked my hands aside and hit me low in my chest.

It hurt. My breath exploded out of my mouth. And the force of it knocked me off my feet into the room. I dropped the flashlight.

There was more screaming. It wasn’t me. I couldn’t breathe. Tears stung my eyes. The screams weren’t coming from my attacker, it was my friends.

I rolled onto my side as lights danced in my face. I raised a hand to shield my eyes, trying to see where the woman was.

I didn’t see her anywhere.

“Holy shit!” Kayla crouched in front of me. Her hand touched my shoulder. “Tina? Are you okay? What the hell happened?”

“Please tell me you did that?” Brianna said. “It was a joke, right?”

I sucked burning air into my lungs along with the dust. I started coughing.

“I don’t think she’s joking,” Kayla snapped.

“What are you saying?”

The coughing subsided, but my throat stung. I pushed myself up and found my voice. “You didn’t see her? The woman that hit me?”

“What?” Brianna’s voice rose higher. “That’s not funny!”

“No one’s laughing.”

I got up with Kayla’s help. Brianna’s light hit my eyes again. I raised a hand. “Brianna, not in my eyes!”

“Sorry.” She moved the light.

The woman was standing right behind Kayla. Her eyes locked on mine. She reached around Kayla’s neck like she was going to strangle her.

I grabbed the woman’s wrist.

Brianna screamed. Kayla screamed in my face and jerked away. The woman hissed and grabbed at Kayla’s arm. Her nails raked across Kayla’s skin but didn’t find purchase.

My friends could see her now!

I hung onto her arm. “Who are you?”

She snarled, lips curling in a sneer, and swung at me. I blocked the blow with my arm. Her flesh oozed and split beneath my hand. The smell was terrible. I shoved her away from me.

The woman stumbled back and hit the camp stool with the DVD player. It tripped her and she fell, knocking it over.

Brianna was still screaming. I glanced at her, and when I looked back where the woman had fallen she was gone.

I spun around, searching the dark around us for any sign of her. Nothing.

Kayla went to Brianna and pulled her into a hug. She stroked her hair. Brianna stopped screaming, crying instead into Kayla’s shoulder.

I took three steps to pick up my flashlight and did another sweep with the light around the room. No woman. We were alone.

Kayla looked at me over Brianna’s frizzy hair. “What was that?”

“I don’t know.” I surveyed the room again.

Empty. Quiet.

“Get everything together and let’s go,” I said.

Brianna lifted her head, tears streaking her face. “Let’s just go! Before anything else happens!”

Kayla shook her head. “I’m not leaving without my stuff. Help me.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” I said. “You two get things together.”

Brianna jumped into action. She grabbed her sleeping bag and shoved it into the stuff sack. Kayla picked up the fallen DVD player.

“The screen looks fine.” She turned it over. “The battery compartment popped open.”

She pushed it back into place and hit the power button.

“What are you doing?” Brianna asked as she scooped food up into the bags.

“I want to see if it’s broken or not.”

“That can wait!”

I was inclined to agree but stayed silent, watching the shadows. The woman had come out of nowhere. It was Halloween night. I didn’t want to believe it, but there was only one explanation I could think of.

She was a ghost.

Brianna pulled the supports free on the tent, letting it collapse in on itself.

“Guys?” She said, her voice quaking. She backed away from the tent.

She pointed her light at the tent. I added my light.

The fabric had fallen down, over the shape of someone lying inside the tent. The bright blue and yellow fabric showed the curves of someone curled on their side.

Kayla still held the DVD player. The screen came to life and O’Dea’s voice rang out, screaming. Kayla hit the pause button and the sound stopped.

A ragged rasping breath noise came from the collapsed tent. The fabric rose and fell with the breath.

Brianna made a high-pitched noise in her throat and broke into her clumsy run. She was making a high keening noise as she ran to the front door.

Neither Kayla or I moved.

Brianna reached the door, opened it and ran outside.

Slowly, Kayla put down the DVD player, closing the lid as she put it on the floor. She pointed her light at the tent as the fabric rose and fell again.

“What is that?” She asked.

I was scared and pissed. Sure, we came out here to have a spooky Halloween night, but this? This was something else.

“Let’s find out.”

“You’re kidding. You are kidding, right?”

I shook my head. “Go with Brianna if you want. I want to know what this ghost or whatever it wants. There has to be a reason for this.”

Another ragged breath came from beneath the collapsed tent. A sound like a sob.

“Maybe we should leave it alone.”

I’d made up my mind. The part of me that was scared was pushed down deep inside.

It only took a couple of steps to reach the tent. I didn’t hesitate. I bent down and flipped back the fabric revealing a pale, dirty foot. A decaying stink rose up and the foot kicked, squirming deeper like a grub trying to get out of the sun when you turned over a rock.

I grabbed the foot and pulled. She screamed then, the ghost. She kicked and came out of the tent clawing the fabric away. She came not at me, but at Kayla. Her nails scratched at the floor as she kicked and squirmed, trying to get to Kayla.

I held on and yanked the ghost back. For a ghost, she felt solid enough. My fingers sank deep into her flesh, parting pale skin into the cold oozing flesh beneath.

Kayla moved around her, staying out of reach, but then she crouched, staring at the woman’s maddened face. “Mother?”

At the word, the woman collapsed on the floor. She sobbed into the floor boards and stopped struggling. I let go of her leg.

She vanished.

The instant I let go, she was gone. Kayla looked up at me, her face pale, and in the dim light, I saw a resemblance there to the ghostly woman.

“Where’d she go?” Kayla asked.

I turned, using the flashlight. I got a glimpse of something by the front door and steadied the light.

It wasn’t the ghost. It was Brianna, peeking in through the open door.

“Guys?” Her voice still had that frightened whine. “Come on, please! I don’t have the keys!”

Kayla stood up, her light on me. “Make her come back.”

“I don’t know how.”

She came at me in quick steps, stopping when she was inches away. “That was my mother. How is that possible? Bring her back.”

“I don’t know how.” I looked right back into her eyes. “Why do you say it is your mother?”

Kayla’s eyes flicked away. “I recognize her. I have a few photos. Well, I did. I don’t have the originals, I scanned those. Digital lasts forever.”

“Why is she here?”

“Guys?” Brianna said. “Please —”

The door slammed shut in her face. She screamed outside.

I looked around with the light and didn’t find the ghost, but she was there. Watching us from the shadows. Listening, maybe.

“This was my house. Our house,” Kayla said. “It sold after the accident. It’s had a few owners since then, but they always left quickly. Eventually, it was bought as a rental, and no one wanted to rent it. Then it sat empty. I don’t remember living here, but I wanted to come back and see it.”

Kayla turned away from me, facing the dark. “Momma?”

Upstairs boards creaked again, the clear sound of footsteps.

Kayla took off running. I acted on instinct and chased after her.

“Kayla, stop!”

She didn’t listen.

She was fast for her small size. She got to the stairs before me and ran up the old steps. About the fourth step up, a board cracked but Kayla was already past it and continuing up.

“Guys?” Brianna called from outside.

I didn’t stop. Brianna was out, I was more concerned with Kayla.

I followed her up, keeping close to the wall and the front of the steps where I figured the wood would be stronger. By the time I reached the top, she’d already gone around the corner and the light from her flashlight was fading.

At the top it was easy enough to see where she’d gone. Light came out of one room. There was a sob from that room. I didn’t hesitate. People think I don’t hesitate to go into these situations because of my experience. I don’t think that’s it. You either have it or you don’t. Some people run toward the emergency, others run away. I’ve known plenty of cops with the same response.

Whatever else was going on, my friend needed me.

💀

The room had been a small bedroom once upon a time, lost now to the past. The only thing that remained was a pale, faded and moldy floral wallpaper. Broken glass lay on the floor from the boarded up window, and long dark streaks ran down the wall from the window like tears.

Kayla stood in the middle of the room, her face in her hands, the flashlight pointing up at the ceiling. Her shoulders shook with the sobs.

“This was your room?”

Kayla dropped her hands and turned around, shrugging. “I don’t know! I don’t remember. I thought maybe I would, you know? If I saw it?”

Her mother came through the freaking wall.

If there was any question of her being a ghost, that cinched it. Ordinary decaying people don’t walk through the solid, mold-ridden walls.

And she wasn’t interested in some sort of tear-drenched reunion with Kayla either. She came at Kayla fast, pulling her arm back, fingers like claws.

Kayla didn’t see her and didn’t react.

I jumped forward, and then Kayla screamed, shrinking back from me.

I caught the ghost’s arm and pointed the flashlight at her face.

She screamed and swung her other arm at me. I blocked her strike.

For a ghost, she was solid enough that the blow was hard and painful. It was like being hit with a hammer.

She tried to pull away. I held on. I didn’t dare let go. The last time I let go she disappeared on me. I wasn’t letting that happen again.

When I didn’t let go she went crazy. She screamed. She thrashed and twisted. The skin on her arm tore and my grip slipped.

I dropped the flashlight and grabbed on with my other hand too, gripping her arm in a two-handed grip. I wasn’t letting go.

She kicked and spun and I hung on.

Kayla screamed. “Why? Why are you doing this?”

Her mother, what was left of her, hissed and lunged for Kayla, clawing with her free hand. She almost got away from me.

I planted my feet and swung her away from Kayla. She slammed into the wall and bounced off. I brought my knee up, hard, into her gut.

Her head snapped up. Her eyes were empty of anything except madness and pain. I twisted her arm around and shoved her at the floor. She fought but she was skinny and dead. She went down with me on top of her.

The stink of dead flesh choked me. She thrashed and screamed beneath me.

I glanced at Kayla. “Get out! I’ve got this!”

For a second, Kayla hesitated, then she ran.

“Mine,” her mother hissed beneath me.

I pressed my knee down into the center of her back, pulling up on her arm. “She’s not. Not anymore!”

The ghost fought to get free. She was strong, slippery and determined. I was just as determined to keep her from following Kayla. Why had Kayla never been adopted? Why did she have such bad luck all the time? Maybe because her dead mother hadn’t fucking moved on?

Sounded right to me. I pulled harder. Bones snapped and the ghost screamed.

Whatever else she was, she still felt pain. My gut tightened. I’d do what it took to stop her from following us.

It took a long time.

Ghost Breaker, they call me. The woman who makes ghosts flesh and fights them. Kayla’s mother was the first one. The first time I touched a ghost and made it solid. Why then? I don’t know. The combination of the house, and Halloween? Whatever the reason, after that night it didn’t go away.

There are no friendly ghosts. Those people, the ones that call me evil? They don’t know. They can’t see, not until I touch the dead. I give the things that go bump in the night substance, and with enough effort, I can break them. Force them to move on.

To where? I don’t know. I don’t see that.

💀

After I was done, tired and sick, I rejoined my friends outside. Kayla wouldn’t talk to either of us. She voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric facility a week later for nightmares she couldn’t shake. She’s better now. I’ve checked. We haven’t spoken in years but she seems happy now. Married, two children as beautiful as she is.

I lost a friend that night and it was worth it to save her.

Brianna? That’s a different story.

That’s how it started. I’m Tina Grimes, also called the Death Hunter and the Ghost Breaker. I got my start on a dare.

💀

5,094  WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 96th short story release, written in March 2013.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Child of Their Minds.

Daily Thoughts 134: Stacks of Books

I enjoy books. I can’t get enough time to read all of the books I want to read. Right now I have over a dozen books on my currently reading list. I’m reading some more actively than others, of course. Plus, a number of the titles are for my MLIS program (not that it really matters).

It’s amazing to me that many people don’t feel this same drive to read.

Many of the books I have stacking up right now are titles that I have picked up because I want to learn more about so many things. Much of it relates to writing, fiction, art, coding, or design. Today I placed an order for a number of books for our home renovation. That will take years, but I plan to get started after this semester ends and continue to work on it as time (and money) allows.

Star Trek Continues

Have you watched Star Trek Continues? I know, it’s not a book. I really enjoyed this fan creation.

I think they’re doing three more episodes. Can’t wait.

Daily Thoughts 133: Flowing Fiction

The Inevitable cover artI’ve been listening to The Inevitable over the last few days. I still have about half the book remaining. I’m curious if he addresses the unevenness of the sorts of changes being discussed. Change is never even, never smooth, never uniform across any society. The other day we ran into an issue in one of our libraries due to limited bandwidth at that location. I expect that will change, but it takes time. Everyone doesn’t reach the same point at the same time even if they’d like to change. Everything ends up lumpy.

Cars, for example. Go out on any road or highway and you’re bound to see all sorts of makes and models, some decades old and some brand new. As autonomous cars begin populating the roads we’ll see them alongside someone’s mud-splattered, battered old Ford pickup, coughing and spewing out dark smoke from the tailpipe while it drives alongside these new sleek, silent, electric vehicles.

Fluidity

I find (given both my work in libraries and as a writer) the views on the changing nature of books fascinating. I have many ideas that I’d like to explore in this area that I’ve already been working on. The notion of interconnected texts, the flowing and changing of digital works, and the augmentation of physical objects makes perfect sense to me. I see print books as a potential interface to other digital content. Nothing so cumbersome as a QR code. The printed text itself will become interactive without needing to change a thing through augmented and aware devices like glasses.

Take the simple matter of looking up a word. On a Kindle, I can press a word and get a definition. Soon, with my glasses, if I touched a word on a printed page, it will show the same sort of popup overlay. The overlay will look perfectly like part of the book ‘display,’ regardless of my head motion. Other augmentations will show annotations, comments, and other information from the book. In a series, touching a character’s name might pop up a character timeline that I can scroll through, even back through other books in the series. The entire print book becomes the code with which the glasses can interact.

Fiction as a Service

Cover art for Discount ArmageddonI’m also interested in other approaches. Some authors have found success on Patreon—Seanan McGuire is currently set to receive $8,673 per short story, more than many authors receive as an advance from traditional publishers on a novel. All from 1,379 patrons. As Kelly talks about in his book, it isn’t so much that they are paying for the stories (which cost as little as $1 per story), but for the interaction with the author. Those who pay more have access to more interaction (and stuff), increasing as the amount goes up. McGuire planned to only do the “toaster project” for a year, with a goal of improving her house. It’s an interesting project, well supported by her fans. She almost seems embarrassed to receive the support. At one story per month, that’s a pretty good living!

One of the things that I find interesting, is what Kelly talked about in the book. That you’re paying for the interaction. I doubt the fans will want to give that up when the “toaster project” concludes. (Actually, checking the recent posts, she is extending it another six months with an option to extend for another year).

Fiction as Flows

One of my post-MLIS projects will focus on a toolkit for writers. I’m interested in something that allows a deeper exploration of the text, an easier fluidity of the form of the text, and ways to reform and analyze it. That may end up being some form of XML/XSLT or some other approach. I still have a lot of studying to do before I get too much into the project.

I do know a few things about it:

  • Text independent of display and format. The basic format is plain text that can morph and display in different ways and be easily transformed into different formats, from e-books to print to whatever.
  • Data-rich. I want the text to be rich in data. That includes stats at various levels from how quickly words are written, a timeline of every character stroke, to layers of interlinked data and metadata about the text. Selecting a portion of text can pull up rich metadata about the selected text, changes, notes, etc.
  • Social. I want it easy to share and involve readers with the text. And make it easy for readers to network and support the creation of the text. That could be monetarily, or through providing comments and feedback.

It’ll be something interesting to dig deeper into as I complete the MLIS and move on to my other projects.

Daily Thoughts 132: Meme-Based Disease Transmission

Mosquitos have served as transmission vectors for disease throughout human history. Other diseases transfer via fluids, contact, sex, and other forms of exposure.

After years of research and the patient development of facts about diseases, scientists developed safe and effective vaccines that all but eradicated many deadly diseases. Unfortunately, diseases found a new vector possibly even more effective than the common mosquito. The Meme.

Meme example

Deny Everything

The CFR interactive map shows the rise in vaccine-preventable diseases over the past ten years. The increased transmission of such diseases stemmed not from mutation or climate change factors but to the spread of a meme advantageous to the diseases. This concept of vaccines causing autism or other conditions spread with the rapidity of global information flows and altered the behavior of people. Incidents of diseases such as pertussis and measles increased. The meme-vector represents a new avenue for diseases to successfully infect hosts and appears to have been very effective without requiring adaptations among the diseases. Even in the face of obvious outbreaks and research showing the safety and the effectiveness of vaccines, anti-vaccination websites, books, videos, and other media continue to spread the meme that there is something more dangerous about vaccinations than the diseases with a proven track record of killing people!

This trend shows that memes produce significant changes in human behavior as they spread, cultivating real-world changes that prove stubborn to eradicate. So far no one has come up with an anti-vaxx vaccination.

Be Consistent

If anti-vaxxers, climate change denialists, and other flat Earthers want to deny decades of accumulated scientific knowledge, is it too much to ask that they be consistent? I have some suggestions:

  • Don’t fly on airplanes. Clearly, the physics and research done to develop the technology are suspect.
  • Likewise, don’t use cars, microwaves, refrigerators, computers, phones, air conditioning, heaters—hell, just give up technology. Why believe any of it?
  • Include stone age technologies too, because what did they know then?
  • Sanitation? Forget about it. Clearly, it’s wrong, right?
  • Dentistry? No, see above.

It’s ridiculous that we know how to prevent thousands upon thousands of children from suffering and death, and people believe memes and other nonsense that puts everyone at risk.

Daily Thoughts 131: Inevitable

The robot swiveled with a smooth, precise motion and picked a book out of the return bin. The robot’s hand had already identified the book and discharged it from the library user’s account. Without a pause, the robot deposited the book on the green metal shelving cart, the second arm deftly making a space among the books already on the cart.

More items clattered through the book return slot and the robot spun, picked each up and registered the return. Most went on the cart for shelving. In a few instances, a receipt printer produced a slip of paper, which the robot slipped into the book before placing it on a red metal shelving cart.

The Advance of Machine Learning

The Inevitable cover artI’ve been listening to Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. The scenario above was inspired by the book, particularly the discussion of the robot Baxter (and its siblings, like Sawyer).

Isn’t a standard automated materials handling (AMH) system a better solution for library work? Perhaps. The decreasing costs of the robotic systems and the small footprint make them appealing for certain uses. The two-armed Baxter takes up more room, however, two arms may be more useful given the variety of library materials. To be clear I’m not suggesting either of these is the right solution for librariesThey are designed for certain types of work from assembly to packing. They can be taught to perform different tasks by moving the arm through the steps required. That’s a bit simplified, but it’s something to look at in the relatively near future. An AMH can cost $200,000 compared to $22,000 for a Baxter unit. At that rate, a couple properly configured Baxters could be an affordable option coupled with an RFID-equipped hand. It’d be interesting to talk to the company about the concept. If the carts were also mobile units and knew when they were at capacity, then the returns system could check in items, transport totes, and arrange themselves. It’d be far more flexible than current AMH systems, cost less, and do more.

Interesting possibilities! In any case, Kelley’s book is an interesting read.

Daily Thoughts 130: Tired

Author's selfie A bit tired today. I prioritized getting my assignments done yesterday, a good thing considered, but that meant very little sleep last night. I don’t mind so much, except there are things that I need to do today. Getting things done yesterday comes at the expense of things today when sleep is sacrificed. That sleep debt needs to be paid. I can’t say it has done much for my mood today!

Autism Talk

I watched Rosie King’s short TED Talk today. I’ve been watching a few of these videos, with people talking about their experiences and views on ASD.

infinite diversity in infinite combinations – Memory Alpha

Challenges Delayed

I’d like to get back to working on my various other projects, but right now I’m going to prioritize finishing this semester. I only have a few weeks left. That also means final projects and papers, so I’ll need to focus and use my time effectively.

Daily Thoughts 129: Late Night Studying

Author's selfie It’s late! I’ve been busy all day working on assignments and studying. We did take a break at one point to run out and do some quick errands in town, but mostly I’ve been in front of a computer screen all day. It’s nearly midnight. Time to get to sleep!

Gnome Efficiency Team

One of my assignments today—a game designed for library folks.

Example of gameplay

This shows the game in play (from my demo on how to play). More information about the game is available over at Shush Games.

Chipmunk

On my walk this morning I spied a little chipmunk. I named him Waldo. Can you find him? I think this picture would make a good jigsaw puzzle.

Picture of a Chipmunk named Waldo

Daily Thoughts 128: Broken Streak!

Author's selfie My streak broke! It’s fine. My brain really likes streaks. Yesterday I was busy with other things and ended up just not taking the time to write down my thoughts.

The best thing about yesterday? I finally was able to meet my new nephew. I’d seen pictures, but we took the time to drop by my brother’s place and visit. It was great seeing them, and of course, lots of fun to see our nephew. With everything going on in my life, it can be a challenge sometimes. It sort of makes me feel a bit like a grandparent, given the age difference between my brother and I. I remember holding my brother when he was just a baby (I was already a teenager).

Otherwise, the day was mostly errands and studying, or a combination. I sat out shopping in Starbucks in order to get more studying done. Afterward, at home, I mostly worked on my assignments until just before bed.

Today?

I’m posting this and then turning my focus to more assignments and studying. I’m off tomorrow, mostly to have time to get more done. Just over a month now until the end of the semester. I need to focus and stay on top of things, and tackle the final assignments.

The Good Samaritan

Cover art for story

Two girls died. Word spread across the whole campus. Don’t go out alone, only with friends. Don’t trust strange guys.

Jane works the late shift at the campus library. That means leaving alone. In the dark.

Not her favorite thing, but she needs the job.

🚀

Jane geared up for battle before she left the safety of the library walls. She had her backpack secure over both shoulders. She kept her hands in her sweatshirt pouch with her keys sticking out between the fingers of her left hand and her small bottle of pepper spray in her left. Around her neck, she wore a whistle on a string. With two girls already dead this month, she didn’t plan on taking any chances.

“You alright gonna out all by your lonesome?”

She took a breath and looked back at the janitor standing beside her cart. Wanda was a tall woman with very wide hips and a beehive of red hair. Each night it was the same. Wanda came in as she closed up to clean the building.

“I’m fine.” Jane smiled. “Anybody mess with me, they’ll be sorry.”

Wanda clucked her tongue and shook her head but didn’t argue. “You be careful, girl. You don’t know some of these guys. They’re sneaky, they are.”

“I know, Wanda. Good night.”

“Good night to yourself.”

Jane pushed out through the doors. Cold October air stung her face. Decaying leaves gathered around the walls. Light posts lit up the square, but a fine chilling drizzle was falling. Not quite cold enough to turn to snow but cold enough. Jane hunched her shoulders and headed out into the mess.

Away from the building the wind blew the freezing mist into her face. Jane huffed and tried breathing through her nose. It was colder than she’d thought. If it got much colder, maybe they’d see an early snow. Too early for snow in Olympia, she thought. But that’s climate change for you. All sorts of crazy weather.

She made it across the square and headed up towards the Loop. A little old woman stood beneath the street light huddled in a yellow parka with bright green flowers. Jane couldn’t see her face, but she saw the breath curling out of the hood. Beside her was one of those wire carts on wheels. It held the old lady’s bag, one of those big black bags that clasped at the top. But if she was waiting for a bus she was going to have a long wait. The last bus left the Loop for downtown a half-hour before Jane closed up the library. She started to walk past, but the thought of the old lady standing out there in the freezing weather made her hesitate and stop. She turned around.

“Excuse me?”

“Yes?” The old lady said, her voice quavering or maybe shaking from the cold.

“Are you waiting for the bus?”

“Oh yes. I think it should be along soon. I hope so.”

Jane shook her head. “Ma’am, the last bus came a little more than a half-hour ago.”

“Oh. Oh, dear. It did?”

“Yes. The last bus leaves just after eleven-thirty.”

“Oh, dear. I fell asleep in the library. I didn’t know it was that late. What am I going to do?”

Jane tried to remember if she’d seen her in the library. It had been quiet, but she could have been in the stacks and missed the old woman. “Is there anyone you could call? Someone that could come get you?”

“No, no one.” The old woman shuffled around and grabbed her cart. She turned back towards the square. “Is the library closed?”

“Yes. We closed before eleven. You should have been able to catch the bus.” The old woman hadn’t been any of the usual stragglers when she’d closed up. She stayed after closing to finish up some work.

“I tried to find some coffee. It’s so cold tonight.”

Jane felt the cold. The wind-blown drizzle was soaking her, and it was icy cold. “You don’t have anyone that can come get you?”

“No, I don’t know. What time is it?”

“Nearly midnight.”

“Oh. Oh, dear. That’s late. I didn’t know.”

Jane shook her head. She had to get home, but she couldn’t leave this old woman out here to freeze. People did that. She wondered if the old woman even had a place to go. She could be homeless.

“Where do you live?”

“The Boardwalk apartments.”

“That’s downtown right? Near the Pier?”

“Yes, dear. That’s right.”

That wasn’t too bad. She had to go near there on her way home anyway. “Come on. I’ll give you a ride.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Jane said firmly. “Come on, my car is this way.”

“Okay dear. That’s nice.”

The old woman grabbed her cart and started shuffling towards Jane. She moved as slow as a banana slug.

“Wait,” Jane said. “Why don’t you wait here? I’ll run down, get the car and come around to pick you up.”

“Oh, okay. Thank you.”

“Sure.” Jane took off at an easy jog. The sooner she got this done, got home and into bed the better she’d feel. At least she could say that she’d done her good deed for the day. In the future, she was going to make sure if the old lady came back to the library that she got out to catch her bus.

The car wasn’t far from the loop. She glanced around as she approached the car, one of the few left in the lot and didn’t see anyone suspicious hanging around. She walked like she was headed towards one of the other cars then at the last minute swerved, went to her car and quickly unlocked the doors. She tossed her backpack into the passenger seat, slid in, locked up and started the car. It only took a few seconds to get out of the lot and head up around to where the old lady waited. She stopped and unlocked the doors.

The old lady shuffled to the back door and opened it, letting in a gust of cold and rain. She struggled to get her cart into the back and then slid in after it. The door shut with a thunk.

“You all set?”

“Yes dear, thank you.”

Jane nodded and pulled out. She got the heater going before they left the Loop. Her headlights cut through the icy drizzle and by the time they reached the parkway the interior of the little car was feeling a lot warmer. She looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that the old lady still had her hood up. Jane couldn’t see her face.

“How are you doing? Is it warming up back there?”

“Yes dear, thank you.”

The words sounded exactly the same as the last thing the old lady had said. As if it was a recording. Jane shivered. Now you’re just freaking yourself out, she thought. She looked in the rear-view mirror again. The old woman sat so still she could be nothing but a mannequin back there. Jane couldn’t even hear her breath.

“Cold night. Do you think it will snow?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Snow? Do you think?”

“Maybe. It’s cold.”

Jane felt better just hearing the old woman say something else. It had just been one of those weird things. Nothing to freak out about. It still seemed strange to her that she hadn’t seen the old woman in the library. Or didn’t remember seeing her. She didn’t look like a typical student, but they did get all sorts of people in the library.

She slowed and turned on Kaiser headed towards Harrison. There were few street lights and with the tall evergreens on either side and the constant drizzle her visibility decreased.  Jane leaned forward as if it would help her see better. By doing so, she saw something odd. A dull glow up in the dark overhead. At first she thought it was the Moon behind the clouds. But then it moved. It drifted across her view to the other side of the roadway. The light grew brighter until she could see a cone of light cutting down through the drizzle. A helicopter?

Gravel crunched under her tires. Jane looked down and saw trees coming towards her as the car bounced. She jerked the wheel to try and get back on the road. There was a bounce, and then the car spun out of control across the road. The old lady grabbed the back of the passenger seat to steady herself. Jane tried to correct for the spin, and the car steadied. She braked and brought the car to a halt facing the wrong way on Kaiser. Her breath came in short gasps.

“Oh dear. Oh dear.”

Jane glanced back at her passenger. The old lady released the seat. She wore knitted gloves but her hand looked large, and she’d really squeezed the seat hard. She pulled her hand back and folded them on her lap.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, dear.”

Did her tone sound mocking? Jane wondered. She felt in her sweatshirt pouch for the mace. “I’m sorry. I thought I saw something and, well, it doesn’t matter. I should have been watching the road.”

“Yes, dear.”

Jane shivered. There was no mistaking the mocking in those words now. And malice.

That’s not an old woman at all, Jane thought. It was a terrifying, horrible thought but as she glanced in the rear-view mirror, she knew she wasn’t mistaken.

The shape in the back seat sat too tall. ‘Her’ grip on the passenger seat when they spun out had been too strong. Jane didn’t know what to do. It had to be a man. But what if she was wrong? This could all be her own paranoia.

“We’re okay. So let’s get going.” Jane surreptitiously dropped the mace in her lap as she pulled her hand out to start the car. She felt tingles along her neck and kept expecting him to do something.

The car started. Her passenger sat still in the back. The wipers thwacked back and forth to clear the windshield. Jane carefully brought the car around in a U-turn and headed on down the road. She kept glancing at the rear-view mirror, but he appeared content to ride along. For now. If this was the same creep responsible for those other deaths she knew this calm wouldn’t last. Sooner or later he’d strike, and she had to be ready.

Outside she watched for the light she’d seen but didn’t see anything.

She felt her shoulder blades tensing in anticipation of him doing something. But every time she checked the mirror he wasn’t doing anything. Sitting back there with his face hidden by the slicker. She couldn’t see him at all. Everything she could see screamed old lady, but at the same time, it was all wrong. The scenery on either side of the road became a blur. They raced down the road. She was speeding, Jane realized. Her foot had started pushing down the pedal as if that would get her away from the man sitting in the back seat.

Light flared in the rear-view mirror. It cut through the wind-blown drizzle to light up the road like a spotlight. She saw it move towards the car. Her passenger twisted around to look out the back window. Jane still didn’t get a look at his face.

“Oh dear,” he said, hardly even making an effort to sound like an old lady now. “What the hell?”

Not very lady-like, Jane thought. She slammed on the brakes and brought the car to a skidding stop. It caught her passenger off-guard, and he fell against the passenger seat.

“Hey!”

The car stopped. Jane hit the release on her seat belt. The guy was leaning forward when she opened her door and tumbled out onto the wet road. Jane kicked and scrambled away from the car. She got up onto her feet and reached into her pouch for the mace canister. It wasn’t there.

It hit her then that she’d taken it out and had it on her lap. It was in the car. She backed away from the car and put the other lane between her and it. The light swept forward along the road towards the car. Jane shielded her eyes with one hand and tried to see the helicopter. She couldn’t hear any sound of rotors. When the light hit the car, it brightened until she had to squint against the light. Then it vanished and left her with only the car headlights against the dark.

He didn’t get out of the car. Jane clutched the keys between her fingers and eased closer to the car. She couldn’t see him in the back seat anymore. She walked a little closer and still didn’t see him. She got to open driver’s side door and saw the mace sitting on the seat. She snatched it up and jumped back. No sign of him. Her keys had a mini-maglight. She turned it on and checked the car. He wasn’t there, but the cart with his bag was still in the back. She got in, started the car and left as fast as she dared.

She started feeling safe when she got home. With the garage light on, she pulled the cart out of the back seat and opened the bag. An anatomy book was inside along with a collection of sharp knives. Jane gasped and dropped the bag. It hit the concrete floor with a clang. She remembered checking that book out to a guy tonight. Sean, something. Her hands shook when she called the police.

🚀

Officer Smith’s thin face looked at Jane intently. She handed Jane a cup of coffee. Jane inhaled the rich scent.

“You recognized him?”

“No. I recognized the book in the bag with the, uh, knives and stuff. The anatomy book. I’d checked it out to him at the library.”

The policewoman typed on her computer then looked up again. “So you didn’t see him leave the car?”

Jane shook her head. “No. I mean the light from the helicopter was too bright. He must have thought it was the police and took off. There’s a lot of trees on that stretch of Kaiser.”

Officer Smith’s fingers tapped on her keyboard. “Are you sure it was a helicopter?”

“What else could it have been?”

“I don’t know, but the weather was too bad for helicopters.”

Jane shivered. “I’m sorry. The light came from above, and after it had gone out, he wasn’t in the car. I didn’t see anything else.”

🚀

2,407  WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 95th short story release, written in September 2009.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, On a Dare.