Spirits are tied to people, places, objects, thoughts. They are earthbound ghosts, rendered inert by the workings of the ongoing world.
Spirits like these are impressions.
Focus on a flame as you snuff it. You see an afterglow, an inverted echo. Often it is said, funerals serve the living, but what would become of all the dead with none of our fading griefs to free them?
To begin, we invoke principals four and nine of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches. They are written as follows—
Four: We affirm that the existence and personal identity of the individual continue after the change called death.
Nine: We affirm that the precepts of prophecy and healing are divine attributes proven through mediumship.
Here we are, Halo and Cedar Paranormal Investigators, and our client Craig Thurgood. We sit in Thurgood Cabin, Redroot Canyon, Montana, on the eve of the New Year, two thousand and eighteen, one calendar cycle from the events in question. We have the intention of listening, and only listening.
Craig, you have suffered. You have suffered the deaths of friends, the loss of a companion, and the disappearance of your beloved brother, all at the hands of an unknown killer.
These deaths are flames watched closely. They can be felt long, long after their snuffing. But lingering flames in the night are symbols. What we want, of course, is voice.
Tonight, our demonstration of mediumship will be a ceremony of trumpets. We have installed our patented Trumpet Digital Clairaudience System throughout the grounds to amplify vocal phenomena. We may need to move to chase the signals.
The spirits we hope to channel are:
One. Katherine Hollis-Thurgood, Late wife of Craig Thurgood. We invite you to speak.
Two. Gretchen ‘Teeny’ McInerny, friend and, we must be honest, past companion of Craig Thurgood. We invite you to speak.
Three. Jackson ‘Frizz’ Stearns, husband of Gretchen ‘Teeny’ McInerny. We invite you to speak.
Four. Bob Beeker, caretaker to Thurgood Cabin. We invite you to speak.
Five, but we pray gratuitously, is Jeremy Thurgood, brother to Craig, friend to all. We presume you missing, but if indeed the worst has come, we invite you to speak.
Spirits, we ask you, where is Jeremy? Who killed these young souls? Craig’s memory is fogged, obscured by time and pain and trauma.
But if you can, Craig. Tell us how it started.
Craig — My dad built this place in the seventies. He was into trout. He went all over, fishing. Guess it was sooner or later he would buy land and build a camp. He liked the isolation. He was an architect. Yeah, right, didn’t fall far. Dad designed the cabin to blend into the woods. Somehow it works in the winter too, doesn’t it? No leaves on the branches. Snow. The gnarly broken twigs in the air. The lines of this place are like that, crooked and crazy. It mirrors the Montana hills. It looks and feels like winter. Reminds you of ice.
On New Year’s Eve 2016, Katherine, Frizz, Teeny, Jeremy, and I formed the plan to come out here the following year and celebrate. In between, a lot happened.
Craig — Well, Jeremy got sober. Frizz started having problems. Katherine and Teeny grew apart, or I guess the tension just got to Katherine. Normal stuff, but by November none of us were as close as the year before. That year was bad for everyone, though. Not just us. You know that. We bought the tickets anyway. Flew to Bozeman. Bob picked up the five of us from the airport and we drove to the cabin. Bob took care of Dad’s Chevy too. He left the truck for us if we needed it. Oh, wait actually there were only four of us then. Jeremy came a few days prior, to arrange things. He was there when we arrived, waiting, waving. Katherine and Teeny got along with Jeremy. Frizz, not as much.
Shh. Wait. Look. The candle. Feel the air thinning? Take my hand. A voice is coming through the system, the unit in the east corner.
Bob Beeker — So you and a bunch of friends want to haul ass to Redroot Canyon, middle a’ winter. You think that’ll make you feel better about the world these days? Well, I can’t let you do that, Craig. I cannot in good conscience let you come out here. Too dangerous, kid. It’s not safe. Spend New Year’s in New York. You got hot water there, and girls, and breakfast restaurants. Winter here is a deathly serious thing, Bud. Don’t come.
Craig — Oh. Oh my God. That’s Bob. He’s… he’s dead. He is. He is not alive. I saw him.
Yes. Well, it is his earthbound impression. A ghost. What people call a ghost. Keep touching my palm. Watch the candle. Don’t look at the east corner.
Bob Beeker — Okay, so Jeremy’s here. Says you got the tickets. Jesus H. Christ at the penny slots, Craig. I am telling you this is the single stupidest idea you’ve had in your entire life. Jeremy says you’ll be out here until the second of January. Okay so, I’ll be out of your hair and I’ll have the truck chained up too. Cross my heart, Craig, your dad ever tells you about the Loach Eye? The Blood Trapper? Loach Eye haunts these mountains. Nobody knows who he is, or what he is.
Craig — No. No this did not happen. This part isn’t real. I do not remember this.
Bob Beeker – All’s we know is the Blood Trapper’s been here forever, sleeping mostly. There’re paintings of him, glyphs in the soapstone. He’s big. Real big. And he’s got some ax or something. A pick, an ice pick. This is not superstition, Craig. This is a living, dangerous, legend. A monster. Tale goes, the Blood Trapper feeds every few years. He feeds on blood, and he feeds in winter. My Tolowa buddy down at the video store says it is coming up time for the Loach Eye to feed. You understand this? He is waking up. Don’t ask me how I know. These people know. They have ceremonies. This is the wrong time to visit for the goddamned New year, Craig.
Craig — No. Beeker never told me this. I was not warned. Even if he did, you can’t expect I’d believe. It’s not my fault.
This is not a trial, Craig. What happened when you arrived? Did you feel anything? Was anything out of place?
Craig — Well, the heads, the fish. So many animals, stuffed, and hung on the walls with marble eyes. They always seem out of place. Look at them. They stare into the distance; not at you, or each other. The scales get preserved in lacquer, or polyurethane. They look like plastics, but they are real. Everyone thought they were great, but I guess they gave me a weird feeling.
Tell us about the cupola.
Craig — The glass cupola? There it is, at the top of the spiral staircase. It juts out of the roof like a lighthouse, the pinnacle of Dad’s cabin. From there you can gaze over Redroot Canyon and further. Probably the whole river. It feels like all of Montana. They call it big sky country and it’s an awful cliché. Still, I have to say that the sky looks godly from that glass tower. I’d never visited in winter before. I don’t know if anyone had. It was a novel experience, being up there in the cupola in the cold, looking out over snowy trees and fragmented planes, rock faces like an abstract expressionist painting, a De Kooning. Katherine loved it. She said it was phenomenal.
Excellent, Craig. This is helping. You are bringing us right into the night. Listen. In the hallway.
Teeny — Craig. Oh, Craig. Thank you so much for bringing us out here. I’m so sorry for the way Frizz is acting. And who am I kidding? I’m sorry for how I’m acting too. Best to just say it. I’m acting like a child. I have regrets. You have regrets too, don’t you? But we aren’t children. We’re adults. Oh, but Frizz makes it difficult. He is so self-important with his consulting firm. He’s only there because of his daddy. That’s how it is in places like that, pure nepotism. Not that following in the family footsteps can’t be admirable, Craig. I respect you for it. Frizz? Frizz is just a drunk. And we’re not married. But you are. You and Katherine, happily, are.
Did you remember that, Craig?
Craig — Yes.
Frizz — Son of a bitch, Craig. This place sure is some ways out here. I am seriously beat from that flight. Didn’t know planes that small went this far. What about the attendant? Man, I think he was feeling me, getting his junk in my face, checking my seatbelt. I’m like, this is Montana, I thought you people were illegal. Anyway, I’m just having this one drink then a nap. Stay out of Teeny’s pants while I’m out, you sick fucking cocksucker. No, no, just giving you shit. But seriously, I see you two. Whatever, I get it. See you in an hour. Wake me up.
Craig — That is Frizz. No doubt about that. I do not believe this. He is dead, and that is his voice.
Jeremy — Frizz is a dick, man. I am just going to say it. The guy has a problem. I am being honest. I, of everyone, would know. He is an addict. He needs help. And just look, Teeny hates him. He’s a womanizer through and through, and she’s like fucking Clara Barton. Honestly, you don’t need to hear this from me but… no, I’m not going to say that. I’m just saying that Frizz is an up-close erection, dude.
Craig — Is that Jeremy? Does that mean… Is he?
It may mean, yes. It may mean he is no longer with us at all.
Craig — Jeremy, if you can hear me, I realize now that I did not communicate your struggle to our guests. No one was careful with liquor. That was my fault. It was. I saw you weren’t feeling good. It was clear you weren’t sleeping. I’m so, so sorry, Brother. I love you.
It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s alright. Remember, we don’t know absolutely. It’s just an impression.
Katherine — We’ve had a hard, hard year, Babe. Let’s just get loose tonight. Have some fun. Forget. How ‘bout it?
Wait. Where was that one? It sounded like the kitchen, farther down the hall. We’re going to follow. Take the candle. Keep holding my hand. Follow.
Katherine — Tonight it all ends, this stupid jealousy stuff. I’ve been so silly about it. But it was a hard year for everyone. And it’s Frizz, really. I would be fine, babe, but he never lets me forget. Why is that? Doesn’t he want to forget too? Anyway, I’m so grateful now. I love you so much, Craig. I’m so happy to have you. The past is gone. There’s no place I’d rather be than here in the woods with you tonight.
Did she say that in the kitchen?
Craig — Yes, definitely. She did.
Teeny — One last thing about this. I promise. Frizz can’t even see that he’s part of the problem. I mean the real, big deal problem. How much money did his company donate to the campaign? And he’s never even considered another job, and he acts like I am not allowed to question things, because I use his credit card. What does he want? Does he want me to leave him? Does he want me to become republican? I don’t get who he even is anymore.
That one was back in the living room. Do you feel the chill? We should go back to the living room. Come with me. Tell me about the night of the party.
Craig — Well, the ball dropped in New York. We had no way to watch it. But we counted down. The music played. We toasted to a better year than the last one. We all had a good time. Jeremy had already left on his walk. He was frustrated and rigged up the snowshoes, went for a walk with the flashlight.
Wait, look. The door. It’s open to the front porch. Was it open when we walked by? It’s so cold. There, yes, I’ll close it.
Craig — That’s strange. Anyway, what do I remember of the party itself? There was a chill then too. We had some loud music going. The stars in the windows were gorgeous. They looked closer than usual. We had confetti coming down from the glass cupola, covering the spiral staircase. I think I remember Teeny’s feet sticking out from up there. She must have laid down to look up at the sky. I remember hearing some glass break in the kitchen and Katherine ran over there. A lot happened. There’s a lot between midnight and the crash that I don’t remember. But I do remember headlights in the driveway. Teeny was bringing the truck to the house.
Jeremy — If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to break a bottle on Frizz. It will happen. I’m going for a walk. Happy New Year’s, brother.
Craig — Oh God. I can’t stand hearing his voice. Where is he? Where is he?
What happed after that, Craig?
Craig — Teeny opened the door. She told me Frizz was having a problem. Then I remember Frizz sitting hunched over on the bench by the door. He was sick. His eyes were all dark. Maybe just too drunk, but he looked really sick. Teeny asked me where the caretaker was, Bob Beeker, and how she could get Frizz to a hospital.
Katherine — Come dance with me.
Craig — I tried to stop Teeny, but she drove off with Frizz in the truck. There was a lot of snow. There was ice, black ice, on the dirt road. I knew it was a bad idea.
Katherine — Come dance with me. Come have one, slow, sweet dance with me by the windows, breathing in the stars. Thank you. Thank you for bringing me here.
And then the crash?
Craig — Well, a little later. The crash was around a quarter past one.
Okay. The system is quiet. The candle looks completely still. That is a little bit strange. Is there anything else? Is there anything we’re missing that you can remember?
Craig — I might have glossed over that Teeny kissed me on the mouth at midnight. Maybe I mentioned it, I don’t know. I kissed Katherine. I said I love you, then she went for drinks. Frizz was wasted and blowing into a party horn. Teeny spun around, dancing, and she kissed me on the mouth. It was fast, no one saw, and basically it was nothing.
Frizz — I’m going to buy this place from you, man. I am raking it in right now. You don’t even know, bud. I’m buying this place, buying a place in the city, upstate, even in the Seychelles, everywhere I go, I’m buying it. And I’m buying private jets, a whole fleet. No more light-in-the-loafers stewards with their dicks in your face on Delta flights, man. I’m buying the fucking earth, then it won’t just be Teeny anymore either. It will be Teeny and Tanya and Gloria and Natalia and models, man, all kinds of tight, talented pieces, just drooling over me. That’s what life is about, and you can be there too. You should ditch Kat though. Ditch her in a fucking ditch, man. For real. I’m taking you with me, and space on Air-Frizz is limited. First class only. No hoes. No jealous divas, man. Ditch Katherine. I’m telling you.
Craig — I remember that. Oh God, did he have to be such a shit? It was his last hour on this planet and he wasn’t even himself. Maybe he was. I don’t know. I don’t— What the hell? Oh, shit. What was that?
It sounded like a slammed window. It came from the hallway, I think. Wait. No, maybe outside. Look at the units. No, they’re down. No power. Don’t let the candle die. It’s a quarter past one now. You said the crash was about then?
Craig — About this time. Yes, exactly.
Teeny — Help. Please, someone help me. Somebody help. Oh hell. I saw him in the woods. The window, through the ice, I saw his eyes. He’s huge. Then we were sliding and sliding. We were going down the bank. No steering, no brakes. The trees. Frizz? Oh God, where’s Frizz. No. Craig? Katherine? I don’t think I can make it back. I’m not going to make it.
It’s alright, Craig. I promise it is going to be okay. All that is happening now has already happened before. It can’t be worse than it was then. Nothing here is going to hurt you now. Follow me. Let’s walk to the yard. The voices are coming from the yard. Do you hear them?
Craig — Oh no. They’re yelling. I can’t do this. I do not remember. I won’t remember. You hear them yelling? You’re really going to go out there?
— Thurgood? Thurgood boy? Craig Thurgood? This cabin here is a slimy secret place. It’s just rot, a woodpile set for termites. A fancy bait box. The caretaker, remember? Should have listened to Bob.
Craig — What? Where is that? What the hell is that one? Oh my — goddammit — no. I will not remember this. I forgot. I forgot this. Some part of me forgot this on purpose, and I do not want to remember.
You cannot forget, Craig. I’m sorry. Every single thing that happens to you becomes a part of who you are. You will never completely rid yourself of this night or any other. The very idea of losing the past to the bygone time is fundamentally impossible. Forgetting is comforting, but it is not real. Now listen.
— Should have listened, Craig. Should have listened to the man, Bob Beeker. Bobby, Bobby, Beeker, Beeker. But all the slimy, silly secret-keepers miss a single piece. What you cannot know about is me, a big man in a dirty hole in the backyard of your bait box cabin. From my hole I wait for winter. Then I make more holes. Holes in your friends, Craig. I watch trout hover, writhing in the currents, cold. I watch you too, in the weird widows, warm. Then rise to flies, Thurgood Boy, I say. Rise to my red, red flies.
What happened, Craig? What happened after the crash? Tell me what happened.
Craig — I left the house without Katherine. I ran down the road. I could see the headlights shining through the trees in the woods. Not where they were supposed to be. Not moving. I could smell melted things, burning fuel. I followed the tracks and there it was, only a few yards down the embankment but the crash was bad. It was all crumpled. The truck was like a tinfoil ball.
Katherine — Where are you? Craig? Honey? Where are you, Babe? I can’t find you. The lights are off. Where did you go?
Craig — Frizz was stabbed in the chest. A horrible hole in his chest. Teeny was gone. There were footprints and blood marks leading off. Somebody dragged her. It was just me there with Frizz’s body, and quiet, then warmth coming from the engine block, and then, the blood.
Bob Beeker — I warned you, Craig Thurgood. You are a city-brained bastard hothead like your daddy was. The Loach Eye has trapped you. He has trapped you.
That one, the caretaker, right? It came through the system. Looks like we’ve got power. Move back now. Back to the cabin. Go closer to the speakers. Craig, what happened after you found Frizz?
Craig — I followed the trail of blood, and the footsteps in the snow.
— I have a pick. I have an old, sharp pick.
Craig — Oh God, I’m really cold.
Tell us what happened, so it can be over.
Craig — I followed the tracks. Whoever made them was heavy because there was a crust on the snow. I was walking on top. The footprints went deep, a foot or two down. They led me back to the cabin through the trees. There were red stains, a trail back to the house.
— I have the small one. Not a body yet. But a tasty bait bit for my cabin snare. Tantalizing, appetizing. Holes in her letting blood like long, stringy wicks behind me. A fine, fine fuse, a red road sign for my woodpile ruse.
Deep breaths, Craig. Deep breaths. Don’t lose your head, okay? If you lose your head, you’ll let them in.
Craig — I’ll what?
What did you find at the cabin?
Craig — The front porch, she was…
— Thurgood’s bride is a soft white pity pillow. No use in all this panic; insistent, permanent, even-at-the-last-second, dread, and screaming. I am picking, picking, picking, and I am not going to stop, so no use in the noise, Girl. That Thurgood boy is coming, following the fuse. And I lurch off, scraping my pick on the floorboards, leaving that big mess behind me on the front porch.
I understand. You’re freezing. We won’t stay here. We’ll go inside. Here, you first. I’ll close the door.
Craig — Oh no. I can see it. I can see it like it was that night. The confetti. The blood. There, oh my God, there’s Beeker. There he is, right there. His, his head on the— oh holy mother of God. Oh no, how did this happen?
It is not real, Craig. This is the séance taking hold. It is working, but it isn’t real. It is only the night’s reflection. It is like the time, one year back, but it is its afterimage. You do not need to remember. Don’t try to. This is it, right here in front of you. Help me see, Craig. Help me to see it too.
Craig — I go through the hallway. There’s just, there’s red all over the floor. I move here, past Beeker’s body. It’s there face down on the boards, three holes in the back of his coat, red and steaming. No head. The animal eyes on the wall are hideous. I can feel the dead things laughing at me. The stars are so pointed. My mind is clear in spite of the shivering. There are ruts, scrapings in the floorboards. I follow the marks this way, through the main room, to here. Right here, they go up the staircase. I go too, my hand on the railing like so, hovering and sliding up the wood. Red droplets wind down, falling from one stair to the next, rolling off the edges. I see his boots in the cupola, pacing. I hear his voice.
Jeremy — This cabin is yours, brother. Dad left it to us, but it’s yours. I don’t want it. I guess I’m just not the type who wants this. These friends, they’re yours too. Not mine. I don’t want them. I’m just not that type either. I wonder what type I am, Brother. Do you wonder too?
Craig — And I go up, step, step, sticky step. The boots walk out of view. All I see up there is the sky, like shimmering oil projections on the panes, like Starry Night, marbling galaxies, like it is now. I step up like this, one foot first into the cupola. The trees in the night horizon rock jaggedly, blowing black shapes in the wind. There they go, swaying. It’s the darkest part of the morning, like it is now. And just like now, there’s nobody here. Nobody with me. I have snow on my boots, and the pick is on the floor. There it is, parts of it rusted, parts of it glinting silver and sharp.
Snuff the candle, Craig. This is it. You don’t want to stay here. We can leave now. You can let go.
Craig — Is it over?
It doesn’t matter. It is for us.
Spirits, go. Now you are free. You are gone from our thoughts and from our dreams. Go. Go.
Craig — What? Dreams? Was this a dream? Is that what it was? Was this only a dream?
No, Craig. It was not. It was not a dream at all. Try to see it like this: a rehashed tragedy. A terror unearthed so that you might let yourself fade, absently, from its image.
Maybe Craig, with time, we become only characters. In memory, we are third person stand-ins from the past, twitching puppets in daydreams no realer, really, than television shows. We hold dear and coddle our oldest reveries like cryptic obituaries of the worst human notions, shadow-wrought feelings that beg us to starve but instead we feed. The histories of our quick lives are like paintings thrown in heaps to burn which instead we cannot help but rescue and pin to the walls of our own personal, crumbling, and condemned, haunted houses.
But not this one, Craig. Not anymore.
Nicholas Barner lives and work out of Los Angeles, California. He is a writer, gardener, and a cook. He likes to run with his dog and read predominantly horror.
Nicholas Barner lives and works in Los Angeles, where he lives with his partner and his dog. He is a writer and a gardener.