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I Believe (a comic gothic, first draft)

A little fiction with a high "yeah, whatever" quotient

Oh shit I believe in goats. My mom had her tit nearly ripped off by a goat. We grew up on a farm and she was wearing this sweatshirt with rhinestones--

Ghosts. Sorry. Well, that's different. I don't know. Maybe.

I remember one thing. I used to hang out in this shack by the woods near where I grew up. Well, not really hang out there. I used to go there to tickle the otter.

Tickle the otter. Bring out the veins in the marble. Slug the slug. Strip the pip. Honk the goose. Reverse the pole. Agitate the alligator. Tear the hair off the eclair. Got that?

So, I had all these magazines out there in my shack. Did you ever read Peek a Snatch? They got up close, so you couldn't see anything but a couple hairs and something that looked like greasy watermelon. I bet half the gynecologists in the country got their start with that magazine. They had them pierced 15 years ago, before it made the mainstream. I had half a dozen issues. That was a great cut rat mag, man.

No, not cut-rate. Cut rat. We called it cut rat, not split beaver, because where the hell are you going to see a beaver landlocked in Ohio?

Don't look like that. So I used to go out to this shed where I had all the magazines. And one day I'm out there, and I'm trouncing the turtle, using a little vegetable oil, working it with this thing I made from toilet-paper rolls and a coonskin cap I got at Disney World, when all of a sudden the walls begin to rock, and a voice cries out to me, and says "Did you tell? Did you tell?"

It was the voice of my grandfather, I swear. He'd been dead since I was eight, but I could not mistake the sound of his voice. The windows were rattling. I got up, and said, "Poppy?"

The windows just kept shaking, and then I heard it again: "Did you tell?" The woods were rustling, and there was a bright light from outside. Let me tell you I pulled my britches up and was out of there running across the field in less than the time it takes me to tell you this. When I looked back, the shed was all lit up--and there was no electric in that shed. And then I see the light pouring out the front door of the shed, and the light is coming after me across the field.

So I kept running and finally I got home. It was only a couple hundred yards but it took forever, and the wind was blowing the other way. I get inside, and my ma is lying on the floor with her head split open. First thing I think is she's dead, but she's moaning. She fell, and whacked herself on the edge of the kitchen table on the way down. I kneel down and hold her head, and she says, "Poppa?" She must have heard it too, I think, and then suddenly there's the same light in the room, even though it's dusk. Not electric light, more like ball lightning, but hovering. I heard the voice again, "Did you tell? Did you tell?"

I didn't know what to say, but the light keeps getting closer, and my ma comes to, terrified, and says, "God, Papa, I never told."

"Who told?" the voice says. "Who told?"

"Goddamn, Papa, you know who told. You know it was Jake," said my ma. Jake was her ex-boyfriend.

"Jake told," said the voice, and it sounded real final and real mad. It just boomed through the house. Then the light vanished, and I helped my ma in cleaning herself up, getting a bandage on her head, and then putting the kitchen back in place.

I didn't go out to the shed for a week or so after that. When I did go back--right in the middle of the day--the whole inside was burnt, all the wood black, and my magazines and coonskin-paper-roll contraption were embers. I left the shed alone after that; I did my business in the shower or quietly at night.

My ma wouldn't talk about what had happened, but I kept bugging her about what she said, and she finally told me the truth.

My grandfather died when I was nine. What I didn't know is that another woman's husband shot him and was now in jail for it. They kept that a secret from me, told me he had gotten sick and died. I can't believe nobody ever told me about it, but small towns are good at keeping secrets from you, as long as everybody else knows. I wasn't allowed at his funeral.

My grandpa had been fooling around with the woman for ten years, and her husband didn't even guess. But Ma's boyfriend Jake was a friend of the woman's husband, they were fishing buddies, and he figured it out from being around our house for a year or so. So the first thing he did was tell. He couldn't hold it in.

After the shooting the other fellow went to jail, and Jake confessed the whole thing to my mother. I think he expected her to forgive him, but she threw him out right away, threw his clothes on the porch, not waiting for apologies. See, I remembered all this, but I didn't know why she did it, and she would never tell me. I'm glad now she did, because his talking had killed my grandfather, but at the time I was real sorry to see him go. After that, Jake moved into an apartment in town, and even though my mom told me not to, I went to visit him sometimes over that last five years.

About two weeks after she explained all this we both began to treat it like it had been some kind of dream. Otherwise it messes with your life too much. I stayed away from the shed, but other than that I just put it all out of my head. Except one day I came home to see her sitting at the kitchen table, and her face was gloomy and she looked agitated. I asked her what was wrong, and she said:

"I have some bad news." She took a long breath and I braced myself. "They found Jake all burnt up, on the ground outside the apartment building. I'm sorry," she said. "I know he was your friend."

"All burnt up?" I asked.

"Yeah," my mom says, "some people say they saw a light all around the place last night, and then they heard Jake screaming loud, in a lot of pain." She took a breath. "They couldn't budge his door. Three guys were trying, and one of them was Rich Jenning, he's a volunteer fireman. But no one could break it down for almost a half hour. There was smoke coming out of the bottom crack, and screaming, and people on the street say they saw light flashing in the window, but they figured he just had a new TV.

"So finally they get the door open, and smoke just pours out, but there's no fire. When the smoke clears, they see the entire inside of that apartment was black, all charred. And then they see the front window was smashed open, and Jake was outside on the pavement."

I tried to talk, and then said, "what do you..." and trailed off.

"I don't know what to think. Doug Chambers came over and told me all this. They said the body was bone and a little skin. He said it looked like a pig roast."

My stomach clenched. "What about Tom Craig?" That was the man in jail for shooting Grandpa. "Maybe Grandpa is going to burn him up, too."

She looked at me sharp. "That's superstition talking," said my ma. "But I'm thinking it, too." I told her about the burnt inside of the shed, and she just nodded. "I was thinking the same thing about Tom Craig. In any case, your granddad would have no trouble with a man shooting another over fooling with the first man's wife. He would respect that. It was the backstabbing that he would have hated. That's why he got Jake."

And it's true, Tom Craig is still in jail and perfectly safe. Seven years left in his sentence. He doesn't know how lucky he is to still be there.

So that happened when I was thirteen. But other than that I don't believe in ghosts at all.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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