This is Chapter Four of my in-progress novel, Night Songs. I’m blogging it chapter by chapter each week (or so). When it’s complete, it will be revised and published via Amazon. Comments are welcome.
Previous chapters are linked at the end of Chapter Four if you are picking up the story here.
Mickey tossed and turned. Every hour or two, she’d wake up, open the cover of her laptop, and stare at the image. The ghastly shadow figure remained. She shut her laptop down completely after emailing a copy of the picture to Dave. At least one other person will have it, she thought to herself as she finally drifted off to sleep around three, and I’ll have proof I’m not crazy.
She awoke to the tantalizing scent of bacon frying and the sounds of jet engines screeching in precise three-minute intervals as they descended on the landing path to JFK airport. A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she tumbled out of bed, remembering long summers past and playing a game with her sister Heather. They would lie on the backyard lawn and watch the descending planes, guessing when the landing gear would unfurl from the underbelly of the jet. Winner guessing the precise moment when the gear would unfold would get out of doing dishes for the night.
She tossed a robe over her pajamas and yawned her way downstairs to the kitchen. Dominic whistled stoveside, turning slices of browning bacon in the sizzling pan. Coffee gurgled invitingly from the counter. Mickey yawned again, kissed her father good morning, and slid a slice of white bread into the toaster.
“Morning, Dumpling,” Dom smiled at his daughter. He shoved a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon to her, then took his own over to the tiny Formica table. The kitchen in their Floral Park house was just big enough for two to sit comfortably at the table when it was pushed against the wall. Years ago, when her mom was still alive and her sister lived at home, part of the breakfast time ritual was pulling the table away from the wall so that Heather and Mickey could slide into their seats.
“Hi, Pop. Thanks for making breakfast.”
“Thought you might need it,” Dom said. He poured a cup of coffee so thick and black you could stand a spoon in it. If he’d had his way, he’d whip up a pop of espresso each morning, but Mickey and the local physician, Dr. Singh, had warned him not to. His ulcer had the final say. “You going into the office today?”
Mickey gulped down the steaming brew. “Yes. Staff meeting at 10.”
“You could skip it. Tell Danny you’re sick or something.”
“Nah, it’s fine. Everyone will want to know what happened at Raphael’s, anyway.”
“Yeah, it made the news,” Dom said, crunching bacon. “Halloway was the guy’s name who got whacked, right?”
“Dr. Halloway. He was president. I met him for a few minutes. Nice man.”
“And the guy you knew in high school, Dave Zardon? Saw a glimpse of him on the news. Funny how things go around, isn’t it? Like you can never get away from your past.”
“True,” Mickey said. The eggs were cooked perfectly. No one cooked perfect scrambled eggs like her father. She chewed thoughtfully, then put her fork down. “Hey, Pop?”
“You ever have…anything weird happen to you?”
“Weird like how?” He narrowed his eyes at her over the rim of his coffee cup.
“Like…unexplained. Creepy. Twilight Zone kind of things.”
Dom dropped his eyes to his plate. After a few seconds, he said, “Yeah, Dumpling, I have.”
“When? Can you tell me about it?”
“What’s brought this on?”
“Just something that happened last night.”
“You tell the police?”
“It’s not that kind of thing. Just tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine.”
“Okay.” He leaned back, the old metal and vinyl chair creaking under his weight. “You know I was stationed at an airstrip in Korea, right? During the war?” Her father had served in the Army during the Korean War.
“Yes, at Kunsan, right?”
“Right, Kunsan.” Her father paused, his eyes flicking to the window where shafts of morning light parted the curtains. “We got there in 1951. The Koreans grabbed it in ’50. The 24th Infantry grabbed it back in October 1950. I was drafted in October, too. After basic training, they sent me to Kunsan.
“The fighting was over by the time I got there but we were never sure when the North Koreans would push back. We sort of expected it at any day, you know?” She nodded. She’d heard some of her father’s war stories, both from him and from a few of his drinking buddies at Koenig’s, the local watering hole.
“Anyway, one night, I was on guard duty. I had to walk the perimeter fence around the airfield several times a night. It was cold, lonely work.” He hesitated. “I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”
“Nah, Pop, that’s fine. Tell me the story. I’ll believe it.”
“Okay, then. The only other person I’ve ever told this story to is your mother and Uncle Harry.” Harry, Dominic’s younger brother, lived in Glens Falls, New York. He had also served in Korea near the end of the war.
“Anyway, one night, as I’m rounding the far corner of the airstrip, I see something. A shadow. A figure. Rushing at me through the snow. It was cold, bitterly cold, and snowy that night, and bright. I could see everything clearly, you know how it is on a snowy night when the moon is bright?” She nodded. She slid from her chair to grab her toast, then returned to her seat.
“So this figure…” Dom took a deep breath. “I just see a shadow. Rushing at me through the snow. Well, how was I to know what it was? I didn’t. I raised my rifle. I called “Halt!” in English. I forgot the little Korean I had learned.
“The guards heard my cry and turned a searchlight on just as the figure reached me. Nothing. Nobody there! Just the snow, they said. Snow swirling in the breeze.
“But there was a smell, Mickey, a smell…like burned meat, sweet, decaying. And another smell, like a gas station. Oil, gasoline, something. It hit me so hard I gagged. Then it was gone.
“A few weeks later, a Major arrived who had served at the Kunsan air force base during World War II. The guys ribbed me something bad about that night, let me tell you. Called me Dopey Dom and all sorts of names. It was all in good fun, but they never let me forget I raised an alarm over a gusty of wind-blown snow.
“This Major, he heard the fellas kidding me in the mess hall, and he listened kind of seriously for a minute. Then he came up to me later that night and asked me where it happened. I showed him the fence corner where the figure rushed me, where the smell gagged me. He nodded.
” ‘That’s where it happened,’ he said.
“Well, Mickey, I couldn’t believe it. ‘What happened?’ I asked him.
” ‘The woman,” he replied. ‘The woman who was killed.’
“It turns out, Mickey, that when the U.S. took over the base in1945, one of our planes crashed during landing. Not sure why and I never found out. But a Korean woman was out collecting plants near the edge of the airstrip and she was killed when gasoline from the burning plane fell on her. Lit her on fire. Like a torch.”
Mickey paled. “The poor thing.”
“Horrible way to go. The Major was there. He was just a Lieutenant then, but he said he was on guard duty when it happened. Saw the whole thing. There was nothing they could do for her. By the time the guys got to her, she was already dead.
“Lit up like a torch. In that corner of the airfield, just outside the fence.”
Mickey put the remains of her toast on her plate. “And you think you saw her.”
“I don’t know what I saw. I do know what I smelled. Burning flesh – and gasoline. In that corner.”
“She rushed at you. Trying to get help. Still, after all those years, her spirit, reaching out.”
“Or, like a tape recorder, when something so horrible happens, it etches…I dunno, energy into the air or something. A memory, playing on a loop tape, burned into the very air surrounding the spot where something so horrific happens that it keeps replaying.”
“But how can that be?”
Dominic shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything other than what I told you. It happened. The Major told me the story. I heard later another guy saw what I did, and the smell would linger, but it was an airfield, so the smell of gasoline wasn’t uncommon. Anyway, you asked, I told you. So what’s your story?”
“I need to show you.”
Mickey pushed back her chair and raced upstairs. She brought her laptop back to the kitchen. While it booted up, she helped her father rinse the breakfast dishes and stack the dishwasher. She slid back into her seat while her father poured bacon grease onto paper towels in the trash can and then scoured the copper-bottomed pan until it gleamed.
She turned the screen to face her father when the picture appeared. She had been afraid for a moment that, like her father’s ghost, this one would disappear. But there it shimmered in the image, the Grim Reaper made large, a cloaked and hooded dark shadow on the softly lit stage.
Her dad dried his hands on a dish towel. “What you got?”
Dominic leaned over her shoulder, studying the image while he absently swiped his hands on the striped towel. “What the heck is that?”
“The stage in the recital hall at Raphael’s last night,” Mickey said. “I snapped this picture for atmosphere before the performance began.”
“Who’s the Halloween guy?”
“Nobody,” Mickey said. “That’s the point. He’s my ghost.”
“He’s scary as hell, Mickey.”
“I know, right? But why? Because he looks…like Death?”
“Yeah, that. But…there’s something coming off of him. A feeling.”
“Of what, Pop?”
“Madness,” her father said, turning away. “And grief.”
The Great Novel Experiment: I publish one chapter a week of my novel, Night Songs, for your enjoyment, entertainment, and critique. This supernatural tale is G – PG rated.
This work is (c) 2018 by Jeanne Grunert. All rights reserved.
Read Previous Chapters of Night Songs