Posts Tagged ‘ghost’

He lit into town in the summer of ’86, a stranger from back East. The shopkeepers and townsfolk watched him drive up the dusty Main Street, past the faded facades of stone and brick. Even the miners left their barstools and stood in open doorways as he passed. The Homestake Mine was still open then, would be for another 15 years, the last one still operating from the Gold Rush of ’76. But the stranger wasn’t there for gold. He’d come to Deadwood, South Dakota for one reason only: he aimed to find himself a dead hooker and he wasn’t leaving without one.

His name was Norman Gauthier and he was an investigator with the New Hampshire Institute for Paranormal Research. Yep, Norman was a ghost hunter. And the ghost he was hunting was a prostitute who’d lived and died at the Green Door.

The Green Door was one of four whorehouses that had occupied the second floors of connecting buildings on Main Street in Deadwood since the business district had been rebuilt after the fire of 1879. The courts knew the brothels as the Pine, Shasta, Cozy and Frontier Rooms; everybody else knew them by the colors of their street-level entrances: the Green Door, White Door, Purple Door and Beige Door. All were closed for business by the time Norman came to town, the result of a raid by law enforcement in 1980.

But Norman had a personal invitation to the Green Door and he was bringing us along as his special guests. “Us” being the local media which included myself as a news intern and Steve, the assistant news director at the Rapid City radio station where I worked. Newspaper reporters and a television crew rounded out the group.

That evening, we went through the infamous Green Door, up the steps to the men’s parlor where clients for decades had waited their turn. There, the owner of the building gave us the 50-cent tour, past the bathrooms and the kitchen, storage areas and finally the “cribs”, the business end of the operation. The one where we would spend the night was on the front of the building, with an alcove that overlooked Main Street.

We waited as Norman set up his recording equipment, each finding places to hunker down for the next several hours. When everything and everyone was in place, the owner told this story:

“In this room in the 1930’s, a hooker was strangled by a man of questionable reputation. They’d fought about the evening’s business, a matter of price, it was thought, and the hooker had come out on the wrong end of the argument. Thing was, she was nearly dead yet wasn’t and without finishing the job, the john had thrown her in the closet. Where she finally died.”

Except that she didn’t know she was dead. She was still walking and talking around the Green Door and that’s why Norman had been called in, to prove it. Back 25 years ago, a paranormal investigation was nothing like you see now on “Ghosthunters” (which incidentally, is one of my favorite shows). There were no infrared cameras or EMF detectors or laser grids. It was all audio recording equipment and cameras, 35mm and Polaroid. Recordings were taken for 10 minutes at a time and for those 10 minutes, nobody could breathe or move for fear of contaminating the evidence.

If you’ve ever been cloistered in a room with a group of reporters, you know how nearly impossible it is for them to do absolutely nothing for 10 minutes. Silence is not normally a reporter’s friend. But during those recording times, the only sounds in the darkened room were the hum of the equipment, the beating of our hearts and for me, kneeling alone in the alcove, the drunken crowds on the street below. You see, it was the “Days of ‘76” in Deadwood, an annual celebration of the community’s gold mining heritage, and it was not an event that was celebrated quietly.

By daybreak, we were all ready to talk and eager to listen to the tapes to see if the dead hooker had been among us that night. The media took a short break outside, stretching legs and smoking cigarettes, while Norman quickly perused the recordings for evidence. Then the call came down the stairs: he’d found something. We rushed back up to the parlor, notebooks, tape recorders and cameras in hand. Norman Gauthier had found his dead hooker and we were there to witness it.

“She was here all right,” Norman exclaimed in the authoritative tone of a man who knew his business. He played a snippet of tape and in the white noise was a faint…something. A laugh? A cry? Was it female? He said it was, and that there were words, too. We strained to hear. A man’s name, perhaps? The name of her killer?

He followed that up with some other random recordings – footsteps brushing the carpeted floor, the tinkling of piano keys. Had there been a piano here in the brothel back then? he inquired of the building owner. She nodded in the affirmative. They’d had music to entertain the men while they waited to be, ahem, entertained.

There was the evidence, plain as could be, and while the reporters surged on Norman Gauthier to do their interviews, I sat in my chair in the parlor and wondered just what HAD I heard? The laughter and the talking could have just been faint catches from the crowd outside, couldn’t it? I mean, I had heard them myself, right through the window. The footsteps? The normal sounds of an old building settling as the warmth of the day cooled into night. I had to admit, the piano keys had me a bit stumped; I couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for that. But all in all, I wasn’t quite convinced.

It didn’t matter whether I thought the Green Door was haunted or not; my job was to write a news story that would invite readers to consider the possibility that it was. Which I did. That story became one of my first wire credits with United Press International and the circumstances that led to my writing it still remain one of my most enjoyable experiences as a reporter and a writer. It gave me a healthy respect for things that can’t be readily explained and the curiosity to look deeper to try and find the words to explain them. And that’s all a writer really needs, isn’t it?

Want to hear the dead hooker from Deadwood, SD yourself? Check out the Black Hills Paranormal Investigations website at http://bhparanormal.com/brothels.htm

There are two old houses I pass on my morning walk that fascinate me. Both are big, hulking structures with peeling paint and overgrown trees on corner lots. One has porches jutting out on two sides and tall, skinny windows with sagging frames. The other has crumbling brick walkways and windows so scarce that I imagine it’s dark as a tomb inside. I’ve never been in either one of them but if I ever have that chance, I’ll take it.

These are the kind of places that make me want to write stories. I know what you’re thinking – big scary house, short scary story. Yeah, that’s what you’d expect. But sometimes good stories happen in the least likely of places. Not all ghosts haunt centuries-old castles. The fire of romance doesn’t burn exclusively on Southern plantations. And twenty-something singles don’t have ironic conversations only within the walls of hip, urban apartments.

Last year I wrote a screenplay called “The Courtyard” that’s a tidy mix of horror, science fiction and just a dab of romance. It runs about 110 pages which I’m told equates to roughly the same number of minutes onscreen, making it the perfect length for a SyFy Original Movie except that it isn’t about vampires, dragons, monster fish or a supermodel/rocket scientist trying to save the world.

The idea for the story came from another house I walk by frequently. It’s a neat adobe bungalow nestled in a neighborhood of ranch-style houses, and there’s not another house like it for miles around. It’s a typical hacienda, swirled stucco walls, exposed beams over the arched doorways, and a courtyard in the back. For years, I wondered, “What the hell was a house like that DOING there?”

As a story formed in my head, I knew I had to get into that house, specifically the courtyard. I’m a visual person and to get a sense of “place” when I’m writing a story, it helps for me to actually “see” where I’m writing about. That’s not always possible, as in the time I told my husband I needed to go to France to research apartments for a chef-turned-assassin novel I was writing but getting inside the hacienda six blocks away was certainly feasible.

I knew just knocking on the front door and telling the owner that my muse insisted I see the backyard would most likely land me in the back of a police car or a padded van. So I had to find another way in. And I did.

One Saturday morning, my friend Colette and I were driving from one rummage sale to the next when I spied a neon orange “Garage Sale” sign taped to an adobe wall. I wheeled into the nearest parking space and screeched to a stop. She looked at me over the classified section of the newspaper and said, “Hey, this one’s not on the list.”

“Yes it is,” I said, scrambling out of the car.

I walked rapidly to the open garage door, past the folding tables of outgrown clothes and cracked dishes, tattered paperbacks and outdated home furnishings. I shot through the open door in the back of the garage, Colette close behind, hissing at me, “You can’t go back there – the sale’s in the garage!”

It was too late. I was in the courtyard and it was everything I thought it would be and more. I pulled the little notebook from my pocket and scrawled as fast as I could. Fountain in center. Adobe sidewalls – 5 feet high? Cracked tiles by flower bed. French doors to back of house. Ceramic pots of flowers – dahlias?

“Hurry up,” Colette urged, resigned to her role as reluctant look-out. “God, why do I hang out with you?”

“Because I’m fun,” I replied, snapping the notebook closed. “I’m done. Let’s go.”

We went back into the garage, trying not to look like guilty trespassers, and I was headed towards the sidewalk when Colette smacked me on the shoulder.

“What?”

She crossed her arms and looked at me. “Well, don’t you think maybe you should BUY something, given the circumstances?”

I rolled my eyes but she did have a point. I grabbed a ratty pair of Keds from the table next to me, paid my quarter and we left. Money well spent because even though they weren’t my size, I got what I went there to get. A good story.

I don’t know if either one of the monster houses will pan out for a story setting but I noticed this morning that the windowless one with the overgrown fruit trees had a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Maybe the realtor will have an open house. Hmmm, where’s that notebook? And what’s the e-mail address for the SyFy Channel?

I’ve long been a reader of stories that scare the hell out of people.  My first horror story was Robert Lory’s “The Beat of Leather Wings”. It had me up all night with the lights on at the age of nine.  It was one of a number of equally scream-inducing short stories in a fantastic 1975 paperback titled “Boris Karloff Presents More Tales of the Frightened” which I checked out one fateful Friday afternoon from the school library. Now, what a book like that was doing in a Catholic elementary school library I have no idea but to the imaginative librarian who decided it belonged on those shelves, sir or madam, whoever you are – I salute you.

From then on, if a book had dismembered limbs, ghostly figures, or an unusually large amount of blood on the cover, I read it. If the title included the words “vampire”, “zombie”, “ghost” or “unholy terror”, it was on my top ten list. Edgar Allan Poe, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Saul, Peter Straub, Richard Matheson – my go-to team. 

My fascination with horror stories isn’t based entirely on how MUCH they scare me but more HOW they scare me.  A horror writer takes all the familiar elements of a story – setting, characters, mood, dialogue, plot – and twists and slashes and dumps them in a cauldron, stokes up the brimstone and brings them to a boil. Finding the right ingredients for a blood-curdling brew can be a challenge these days when reality is sometimes scarier than anything a King or a Poe or a Matheson could scream up.  

I’m working on a short horror story myself these days, what I hope will end up to be a delightfully dark little tale called “Jingle”.  While the cauldron’s more on simmer than boil at the moment, now might be the time for my group of readers to catch a few extra Z’s.  Because hopefully after they read it, the lights will be burning all night long.