Welcome to the 10th annual #SpookyShowcase, a Halloween artist and author showcase. A full schedule of submissions can be found here so you don’t miss a single entry for THESE DEADLY CURSES. Now, on to today’s submission!
With a Little Luck… by Jay Kleem
People never consider it, but figuring out where you die is one of the most important life decisions you can make. I mean, I get it—sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter: That #7 bus sure comes out of nowhere when you’re juggling an everything bagel, an Americano, and a ransom call from your grandson’s kidnappers. One moment, you’re stepping off the curb, explaining that they’ve got the wrong number because you’re only 25 and you don’t even have grandkids, and then, BAM! Or maybe you’re in a hospital and you do that thing where you tell them to stop treatment because you bravely want to die at home. But then you realize that everyone is crying and you’re watching an orderly place the sheet over your head while you’re hovering somewhere up near a bright light on the ceiling. The bottom line is: if you’ve got any kind of choice in the matter, pick somewhere sensible to die, somewhere cosmopolitan and interesting, because if you’re like me, you’re going to be there for a long while.
I haunt an outhouse at a campground near Gator Lick, Florida. I didn’t have to die in an outhouse, mind you, but I chased what I thought was a winning Lotto Scratcher I’d dropped between my legs down into the heinous sludge below. As it turns out, the outhouse’s cistern tank was deeper than I’d thought, and I ended up drowning in yuck. So now I have unfinished business on two counts—I suspect I’m here until someone finds my body or until I can find a way to scratch off that last treasure chest to see if I won the $114. Since I now lack the corporeal necessities to scratch the ticket myself, I’m determined to make someone discover my body and give me a proper burial.
It took a lot of stupid mistakes for me to wind up haunting an outhouse. The first being that I thought I could retrieve my ticket if I just reached down a little further. Or maybe the first was doing Lotto Scratchers while seated on an outhouse toilet in a remote campground? Or that I was hitchhiking through the state and hadn’t left any sort of telltale evidence to my whereabouts? Sure, it’s easy to mock me now, hindsight being 20/20 and all that. But if you only knew how badly I needed that $114, how I’d bankrolled my last dollar into a Lotto Scratcher and pinned the entirety of my next couple of days on the potential of that money, you wouldn’t laugh. No, you’d probably feel pretty crummy for snickering at my plight. Except, that’s a lie. I was gonna use that money to buy a kickass decal for my jet ski. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m dead and haunting an outhouse. Or that I’m reaching out to you from beyond the grave to impart some truly useful wisdom.
If you can choose to die somewhere, die somewhere that smells nice. The dead still have noses, and this outhouse gets rancid in the Florida summers. I figure there’s another two feet of fillable space until this outhouse is good and full enough that someone decides it’s time to send in a removal company to vacuum it out. Hopefully, they’ll discover my corpse then, perfectly preserved in the nutrients like some Dark Ages bog man and I’ll transfer to a new plane of existence, one that has lots of soap. But I’ve been stuck here since 2004, and I’ve only seen the excrement level rise like eight inches, so I’m admittedly concerned about the popularity of this campground.
That’s another good rule of thumb: die somewhere populated with living people. Don’t die in a hospital or an old folks home where lots of people die though—you really want to be the only ghost haunting your spot. Too many other ghosts around and you get lost in the chatter. Suddenly, you’re just one spectral voice of many, all crying out at the same time for justice, understanding, or for someone to return that missing locket to your estranged daughter and make things “right.” As it stands, I happen to be the only ghost haunting this outhouse, so I’ve got plenty of real estate to call my own, I just need some more living people, full up on state fair chili dogs and Natty Ice to send me to heaven.
Also, don’t think I just sit around in the muck and wait. No, I’m a hustler. I try to get things done. For starters, I climbed out of the refuse as soon as I figured out I could. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize I was dead by that point and therefore spiritually tethered to the boxy wooden commode with its quaint crescent moon cutout on the door. But I’ve got approximately 10 feet of land surrounding the outhouse with which to ply my trade. So, I’ve made the most of it. I create a sense of “total immersion haunting,” which I take pride in. As soon as a camper wanders up with that look of urgent desperation, I set in on them. I don’t have chains to rattle, but by concentrating all my psychokinetic energy, I can kind of shake the outhouse walls a little. I used to be able to make the one-ply toilet paper roll spin as well, but the toilet paper ran out years ago and nobody has ever come by to replace it.
I can also make an “Oooo” noise. No matter what I say in the direction of the living, it only comes across as a sustained, low-note “Oooo.” But that freaks people out a bit and it’s usually the second thing they mention to their companions, right after grousing about the lack of T.P. And, I know it’s working, because more than one camper has come by and exclaimed, “Oh, this must be that haunted outhouse the lady mentioned on Yelp.” I don’t know what Yelp is, but it has got people talking about me. I’m not a destination outhouse yet, a place where ghost hunters come to set up equipment and monitor “astral wavelengths” or anything but it’s progress.
A common question I think I will be asked once I make it to “the other side” is, “Did I watch?” As in, did I hang around and perv on campers doing their personal business? And the answer is, “Of course! I owned a jet ski in Florida, why would I not want to watch people going to the bathroom?” It’s about more than being skeezy though, as I’ve become wholly devoted to the study of raw human emotion. In life, I managed a tanning salon, in death I am a psychologist. At first, people are just relieved to be relieving themselves, but then once I start in with the shaking and the “Ooohs,” you get the panoply* of human behavior.
Initially, they’ll be like, “Bruce, stop clowning, man, I’m just trying to deuce here.”
But then “Bruce” will yell back, “Hey man, I’m not doing anything. I’m way over here.” And the panic will set in. Doubly so, once they realize there is no toilet paper, hehehe.
As a society, we’re ill-equipped to deal with fear when we’re already experiencing extreme vulnerability. It’s like a mind can only focus on one big emotion. Some people will go stumbling out of the outhouse, pants down, just wanting to escape the terror. Others, will invoke the playbook of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross*** and attempt to start bargaining with me. “Listen ghost, if you let me live, I’ll bring other people back here as sacrifices for you.” Nobody ever brings anyone back for sacrifice. It’s just the desperation talking in the heat of the moment, so I don’t get too offended. As a psychologist, it’s my duty to parse through the bluster to understand the underlying emotive concepts at play. I really hope that heaven needs a psychologist, because I feel I’ve gotten pretty good at it. And being as close to the sun as it is, I can’t imagine they’ll need a tanning salon manager.
Usually, once people get scared, I’ll stop. I’m not a bully, after all. I did go through an “angry phase” around the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, where I attempted to lure other people into drowning in the outhouse with me (shiny objects are key), but that was a thankfully short-lived part of my maturity growth cycle. Now, I just want to be at peace. But to do that, I’ve got to get this outhouse overflowing. And so that brings us to you. Using my collective powers of mental projection, I am beaming this message out to you for help.
Hopefully, this plea finds its way to you through some channel of human connectivity and you will fill your belly with cheap gas station snacks en route to Florida. Per my understanding, you can find out exactly which outhouse it is on Yelp. By the time you get here, if you eat the right kind of snacks, you will be in dire need of an outhouse and can contribute some precious waste towards my salvation. I feel like I’m better served by asking for people to come use the outhouse rather than pleading for someone to rescue my body outright. The grim reality of this modern age is that nobody wants to rescue a missing person, but lots of people will stop what they’re doing to announce, “Hey, let’s go shit on a ghost!”
*If you’re thinking a jet ski-owning, tanning salon-managing Florida toilet ghost couldn’t possibly have a word like “panoply” in his lexicon, you’re right. I consulted a dictionary page someone once sacrificed for toilet paper.**
**If you’re now thinking “No way some Florida camper just happened to be toting a dictionary with them to an outhouse, now you’re just being obstinate, pedantic, and reductive. Yes, they sacrificed a lot of pages… it was a serious clean-up job.
***A lot of book pages get repurposed in there.
About the Author
I was going to make a whole profile built around my upbringing in Green Briar, Tennessee, a city name I made up that just sounded bucolic and wholesome. I was going to tell you about the English teacher at my high school there (Go Troubadours!) who inspired me (Mrs. Acorn-Recendez), and how every story I write is in some way dedicated to her memory (she retired to Branson, she’s not dead). But then, I decided I better check to see if Green Briar, TN really exists. Turns out it does (Greenbrier, TN)! So, maybe I really do exist there, just lying amongst the huckleberries, chewing on my pen cap and dreaming of a beautiful tomorrow? Yeah, I like that.