There's an old shuttered fast-food place on a little highway, a few miles west of the north-east extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. People used to take it to the Poconos, but no more. That's why the burger joint is a relic. Weeds and vines slowly devour the old, asphalt parking lot... Deer come by to nibble them. Sometimes errant Jersey Devils fly over, on their way to the even vaster forests of the Alleghenies. The site looks dead and it mostly is dead, except for a trickling bit of energy from a forgotten buried power line that quickens an ancient, walk-in freezer in the back. They say there're lots of ghost lines like that, especially since the advent of computers. They send out the bills, after all. Maybe they want it this way?
Sometimes I watch the place at night. I see things step out from the woods. Do they see me? I don't know. I am a ghost. I'm still me, just minus my body. Will I always be here? Can't tell. I guess when you're one with eternity a few decades spent in among the trees isn't so bad. I can talk to them, you know. They have souls. What you see as one tree is only a part. Think of each tree as a footstep... each seed-line as a being. All the oaks in a grove might be one soul. Two or three souls might be intertwined. And the souls themselves evolve, as they absorb genetic material from others. Life is everywhere, both physical and otherwise.
There are bodies in that freezer... a few whole ones... a few carefully butchered parts. The bodies are in more or less fetal positions... arms hugging knees... ankles tied... wrists tied... all shaved and exfoliated... eyeballs cleanly scooped out of the sockets. Whether that happened before or after death I don't know. Couldn't 'taste' any souls around them. Maybe they didn't want me to.
People fall into tight fetal positions when they freeze to death, especially when they're shaved, blind and naked. Hell, every middle school kid knows that. Well they dooo.... Oh, and the bodies were encased in a thick 'shell' of smooth ice. In some places it was clear. In other places it was cloudy. The butchered parts were in heavyweight plastic bags twisted shut with big, thick rubber bands. A lot of the hand and forearm combinations were manicured. I mean lady manicured, with fancy nail polish and all. No rings. Somebody must have swiped the rings, because, you know, these days they all got rings. One bag has a credit card and a toenail clipper. I can tell what they are, 'cause they're right up against the plastic. Please know that it's dark in there. No lights in the freezer. I sense all this with spirit vision. If I concentrate on a thing it becomes vivid, like shining a little l.e.d. flashlight from the dollar store. I know what those things are, because I've wandered through the turnpike rest stop on the big highway smelling egg and sausage patty sandwiches and pink, sugary bubblegum.
I asked the tree-souls if they saw who did the killing and in some cases butchering. They said they didn't know. I don't think they were interested. But they could go on for hours about who cut down the trees up on the hillsides and what different varieties of bird shit smell like.... squirrel shit and bug shit too.
The other human ghosts around here I can talk to. There's a dead carnie woman who got her throat slit by another carnie back in the nineteen forties. She's OK. And I know a camper who was mauled to death by a bear and some other guy who just died, 'cause he messed up on his meds, or something like that and a few others. You know how it is. We meet up every once in a while... float around a little... Passing through each other is a real intimacy. Not a sex thing. Just an intimacy. One likes ice cream, so we pass through this premium ice cream plant up north of here. You may have eaten some flavors we've swam through. I'm told my 'essence' ethereal as it is, leaves a trace of Cantonese ginger. Although I myself have no idea what that fragrance is like.
Most days and nights the old burger joint sits quiet and forgotten. Orange, autumn sunlight filters through the trees.... Moonlight gilds the snow. A rabbit pads by.... a coywolf. There's little, if any, automobile traffic. Some places simply 'disappear.' But one soul knows it's here. The thing that brings the bodies knows.
He shambles through the brush. Does he carry them for miles?... How could we ever tell? The tree-souls might be willfully oblivious. Let them ruminate on bird shit and the scent of carbon-dioxide in the air. I think they're a bunch of communists.
But I saw him. I saw the beast, hunched like an ape, silently making his way one midnight, or perhaps it was three or four hours passed that time. He had a companion, a bound and gagged individual, thrown over his shoulder like a slaughtered, or about to be slaughtered animal. The eyes were opened wide, the head already shaved and naked in the weak, silvery darkness. How hopeless and forlorn.... Did I just say 'forlorn?' It's just that I can't help it. The magic of my 'situation' seeps in and takes me to another place. Soon I'll forget my mortal life and drift through shadows like a wraith. Believe me, I don't look forward to it. Maybe I'll pass to a loftier plane long before?
The fiend had a key. He put his trembling burden down in the dirt and fiddled with the corroded lock on a metal door covered in chipped gray paint. The victim moaned. He impatiently turned, delivering a most unsympathetic kick to its stomach. I think it cried, lying there on the damp earth, wrapped in a worn painter's cloth, facing death, or something worse. Then the beast went back to his task. He opened the door and dragged the baggage in. Then he closed it... soundlessly and quick.
I passed through two layers of plywood and a plate glass window to join them.
The demon rummaged through the pockets of his loose, dusty coat... more a cloak than a fitted garment. He took out a short, fat candle and lit it, powdering all with a feeble glow.
Then he grinned, exposing a mouth filled with sharp, broken teeth, the rest of his face veiled by lank, filthy hair. The still living body on the floor did nothing.... Then, perhaps five heartbeats later the grin disappeared, as with a smooth, practiced flourish, the ghoulish figure snapped the old painter's cloth off the victim, revealing a form so emaciated, gender was irrelevant. The thing on the floor mewed like a kitten, as the refugee from a penny dreadful unsheathed an old straightedge razor, got down on the cold surface and proceeded to make quick, whip-like hash marks all over the meager flesh on its body. Blood oozed up till the red glazed sacrifice looked like nothing so much as a honey roasted Chinese suckling pig.
After wheezing with glee the fiend rose to its feet before the victim died and tarried by the door watching the rats stream out from an assortment of hidey-holes to start their candlelit feast.
<more next time>
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