Chapter Sixteen- The ghost of Ned Cooley
“There’s a ghost in your room? Don’t be absurd.”
“Come and see for yourself, if you don’t believe me.”
“All-right damn it! Hang on.” I slipped into my clothes and followed Grub down the hall. We passed a sleeping Wally sprawled out on the couch. His limbs we all splayed and dangling like his heart had just exploded. He had flopped backward into his current position. The television was still on and played in the background. "Green Acres is the place to be . . . farm livin’ is the life for me ...."
We continued past sleeping beauty through the kitchen and the ensuing hallway, to a small room located adjacent to the studio. In fact, the control room itself sat above us like a chicken on an unhatched egg. I could see the bulging, angular frame of the drywall where the staircase ascended and Grub’s single bed, with his sheets in disarray, lay willingly underneath it. Something had scarred the hell out of him.
Grub pushed the door in wider and we cautiously crept in.
“So where’s this ghost of yours?”
“Shush! Listen . . . do you hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything.”
“There it is again. Listen.”
“Grub, it has to be those damn pills you’re taking. You’re starting to hear . . . ” I stopped in mid sentence. I could hear something faintly resonating from somewhere in the room. A disembodied voice. It moaned. “Ohhhhhhhhhhh.” And it was followed by a faint sound. Twack! The type a ping-pong paddle or a rolled-up newspaper might make hitting its target. “I hear it.”
We both strained our ears. “Ohhhhhhhh,” the voice said again a little louder, followed by the twack! A troubled expression furrowed Grub's brow. “What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. Let’s get Doc.”
“Why Doc? What about the others?”
“I don’t want to bother Suds with this just yet. Wally wouldn’t be of any use, and Skunk would be asleep again before we ever got her in here.”
It was true what I’d said, especially about Skunk. I had witnessed my fair share of sleeping disorders from deprivation, to apnea, to chronic snoring, but I had never seen anything compared to Skunk and her ability to nod off at the most inopportune times. It wasn’t like she was narcoleptic and would fall asleep in the middle of solos or anything, it’s just, when she was tired, she slept, no matter where she was. She called them power-naps. We called them close brushes with death. There had been more than a few white knuckle experiences, usually when she
was driving us back from a late night performance. She’d nod off at the wheel and we’d end up in a ditch a few miles down the road. Skunk would still be asleep. In fact, when I had heard of their accident this morning, my thoughts had immediately been, she fell asleep again?
We now stood outside of Doc’s room located in the lower level of the ranch end of the complex. Next to his door was a weight room and a sauna filling our lungs with a dry cedar smell. I rapped lightly. “Doc, you awake?.....Doc, it’s Sparky and Grub. Are you awake?”
There was a rustling of covers from somewhere inside the tomb. “Je-sus I am now. Hold on to your britches. I’m comin’.” Doc opened the door and rubbed his eyes. “I was having the nicest dream . . . Three naked, moisten bints were feeding me grapes and— ”
“— Doc, no time.”
“What is it?”
“Grub’s having a problem in his room with an apparition of some kind.”
“Je-sus Sparky. You said no practical jokes this weekend.”
“I heard it Doc. I’m not shitting you.”
“OK,” Doc said. “Let’s go see the ghost of Wires Whitmire.”
“The ghost of Ned Cooley’s more like it. Didn’t Suds say he drowned in the pool here? Maybe his ghost is roaming around the place looking for another pair of water-wings?”
“Oh don’t be silly. What are ya, just out of diapers?”
We waited for Doc as he warily put on some slippers and attired himself appropriately in a dark blue robe with yellow diamond flecks. We ventured back up the stairs into the living room. Wally was still on the couch, but had turned over. His face was planted into a puddle of drool. His arms were at his sides and his ass stuck straight up in the air. He looked like an inch worm that had died in mid-inch. The TV was still on and Mr. Hainey was making life difficult for Mr. Douglas.
Doc took point, and marched our little troop over to the room in question. Silently we crept in and listened.“Ohhhhhh . . . ohhhhh,” the disembodied voice chanted.
“See, what did I tell you, Doc.”
“Ohhhhhh Jesus . . . help me Jesus!” Twack!
Grub gaped awestruck. “The ghost of Ned Cooley,” He said as he crossed himself. “He’s trapped in some other dimension and wants Jesus to help him get out.” He began to hyperventilate. “Meeya, Meeya.”
“Suds said he was a religious man,” I added.
“Help me Jesus!” Twack!
“This is horrible. He can’t find his way to heaven?” Grub said.
“Fuddle duddle!” Doc blurted. “The voice sounds female. Unless Old Mr.Cooley had his balls ripped off too when he lost his water-wings? I’d say we can squash that scenario.”
“Ohhhhh Jesus” . . . twack! “Thank you Jesus.”
Doc was right the voice, although guttural, did resemble a female’s. Doc started to inspect the room and stopped at a heating vent belching cool air from a horizontal, metal grid, in the corner of the ceiling.
“Grub, get me your chair.”
As Doc continued to look up, Grub dragged the padded seat in question over to him with his one good arm. Doc Barlow positioned it below the grate and climbed aboard. He pressed his ear to the slats and jumped back startled with surprise. “Je-sus!”
Grub and I yammered in frightened squeaks.“What! What is it?”
“Frickin grate’s cold on my ear.”
“Christ Doc! Grub and I nearly shit ourselves. Can you not do that again?”
“Sorry.” He placed his hands on either side of the opening and returned his ear slowly to the grid.
“Ohhhhh Thank you Jesus!” Twack!
Doc stated proudly. “It’s coming from here.” He pulled his head back and jumped down. “Problem solved. Now if you don’t mind gentlemen, I’m going back to bed. I have a date in my dream I need to attend to.”
“Doc, Suds didn’t say one word, about anyone else staying here. We have to find the source. What if it’s a burglar?”
“What are you, Wally? ‘Ooooh thank you Jesus for leaving the door unlocked’,” he capered. “Sparky, get a grip.”
Grub continued his labored breathing. “Meeya— Well, it’s still creeping me the fuck out, Meeya— and I’m not sleeping here with some voice moaning all night.”
“I agree with Grub, Doc. We need to get to the bottom of this. Don’t you want to find out who’s making the noise?” Even though there was a logical explanation for the disturbance, I was still troubled by it, and my nightmares of Wires had not helped the situation any. The talk of unexplained phenomenon always got my drawers in a knot. The thought of dead relatives invading my personal time, looking at me while I masturbated, or sang into a hair brush, bothered me to no end and I just had to have an answer.
Doc sat on my words for a moment before he spoke. “Ok Nancy Drew, Shit! The things I do for you guys.”
“Grub you should probably stay here. I don’t want you wandering around in the dark. You’re likely to damage your hand further. We can’t risk it.”
“Yes mother . . . Meeya.”
“But I’ll need your shoes.”
“Their too small for you.”
“I’m not going out side in my bare feet! What if I stub my toe on a Judas Iscariot gnome? I already broke one of those ungodly...God thingys today. Didn’t you notice the angry Christ giving us the finger when we drove up?”
“Grub just give him your shoes.”
Grub finally relented and swept his runners over to me with his foot. I jammed them on to the front part of my feet and tried to hold them on with clenched toes. Doc and I headed for the front door for further investigation.
There was no moon. Not even the pin points of a million stars to punch through the dark vale. It was all hidden behind sullen grey clouds and the damp coolness. Doc and I crept through a fissure between the tractor and the Honey-wagon and continued around the side of the guest house, where we deduced the voice originated. There were no windows only a row of garbage receptacles set up like a game of chance at a carnival midway. We proceeded with caution to a clearing around the back of the house.
By the fenced-in darkness of the pool, there was a door and a window. Both were dark and brooded over wooden flower boxes, carved and painted to resemble the Last Supper. Cherubs presided with blessing and a ghostly luminescence. They clung to the houses siding in solemn profiles. However, in one of the upstairs windows, there was a faint glow from the flickering tongues of candles, and there stood two black shapes facing one another. One of the shapes appeared to be periodically flogging the other with a strap of some kind.
“What the hell’s going on up there Doc?”
“I don’t know.” He pulled his housecoat tighter around his upper body to avoid the cool night air.
“Maybe we should rush in there and try to scare them off.”
“Sparky, get off the burglar crap, will ya. You can’t just go barging in there like Captain Doodle Winkerbean, expecting to save the day. Think about it. No one breaks into someone’s house, especially out here in the middle of nowhere, to perform a flogging ritual aimed at warding off the engorged member of Satin. I think it must be Cooley’s two daughters. Suds said they owned the place. I guess they live here too.”
“But he also said they wouldn’t bother us.”
“No, he said they probably wouldn’t be coming into the studio. Now, we know what
we’re dealing with. We can tell Grub, and he can sleep in the frickin’ kitchen with a tea bag for a pillow, if he prefers.”
The two figures suddenly stopped and appeared to be looking directly at us. Then they both dropped from sight like they had vanished into air. I had a sick, chilling feeling rising from the deep pit of my gut. Doc must have felt it too, because he nearly pulled me out of Grub’s shoes as we ran to the protective cover of the guest house. We plastered our backs to the wall next to the door. The cherubs fluttered and rattled against the siding.
“Je-sus we’re forty-year-old men,” Doc panted. “Why are we hiding like scared rabbits? We should just tell them we heard a noise and came out to inspect it. Sparky, there’s nothing wrong with that. Right? They’ll probably thank us for our concern.”
“You think? But they saw us running. I’m sure of it.”
“We were startled, that’s all. They were startled too. We’ll probably all have a good laugh about it, over black coffee and biscuits.”
“You’re right Doc. This is silly.”
An outside light suddenly came on with the intensity of the sun, blinding us and exposing our covert mission. Doc shifted quickly and dislodged one of the clay angels. It fell with a startling smash into a pool of fragmented wings and body parts. “Shit! Sparky, we’ve been spotted. Run for it!”
Quickly we slithered around the far end of the guest house and ran with abashed panic, back to the safety of the studio. I smashed into the emptiness of several aluminum trash cans, decapitating the lids from their bodies, and fell flat with a chattering crash.
“Sparky come on!” Doc urged.
“Save yourself Doc. I’m done for.”
Doc pulled me to my feet, and with his assistance, I limped into the house. Grub was waiting for us. “What happened? I heard a crash. What’s going on?”
Doc dragged me like I’d been shot, with my arm draped over his shoulders. Grub’s shoes slid from my feet as I was pulled. “Can’t talk. Going to bed. You’re on your own Grub.”
We blew by Wally mumbling in his sleep, “Arnold Ziffle . . . stupid pig.”
Doc unloaded me onto my bed like he was throwing down a heavy duffle bag of dirty laundry. Without a word he retreated to the safety of his own domain. I slid beneath the covers, fully clothed, pulling them up tight to my nose. I waited for the imminent attack, the terse words of warning and subsequent banishment. Even the pointing fingers of accusation, at least.
It never came.