Tombstone

Shades and Shadows: A Paranormal Anthology

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<Strongly Encrypted Email via UltraLock>

                                                                                                                Sent: Sat 8/3/2013, 9:11 PM

“This here house is my tombstone. It stands above my grave.​ Hain’t nobody alive in it—just me.

​I’m buildin’ it with my own hands: I laid ever’ stone carried from my own fields, hand-split ever’ shingle from forest king snags I felled myself, turned ever’ spade-full of earth. My own self. All alone. “

Dear Doc:

That’s what I heard when I played back the digital recorder right after that very first session.

You, of all people, will understand how excited I am. “Fit to be tied,” the old man would say. This changes everything. Our entire field of study just took a quantum leap.

Congratulations, by the way: to read this you’ve had to get you-know-who in the university’s School of Electronic Security to decrypt it, and she had to crack multiple layers of security on my office computer to get the key.

Love her to pieces, trust her with my life. I bet she already scrubbed all this from the servers and brought you this email on a thumb drive. Burn it after you read it. I’ll bring all the original research documents with me when I come back.

It’s going to sound paranoid, but I’ve redacted anything from this whole long email that reveals any of our identities, or exactly where I am. That I’m on the Texas-Louisiana border is inescapably obvious from the transcript, but the Sabine River is 510 miles long, the swamps and forests are deep, and I’m miles from any paved road.

I need to stay off the radar until my research results are iron-clad, and you and I agree I’m ready to publish. But I suggest you talk to your buddy at the Journal of Paranormal Research and alert him to hold space. You’ll soon see why. But, as the old saw goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean nobody’s out to get you.

The national security implications of my research are plain. The Federal government has had parallel research going back at least 70 years. Just the encryption possibilities inherent in the communications transcribed below will probably drive the NSA berserk. So all this isn’t paranoia, it’s just healthy, realistic caution.

I’ve encrypted and uploaded the recordings to the raw data folder for this project on the Department’s secure server. You-know-who will help you access them. Please listen to them as soon as you can and give me your thoughts by return encrypted email. I’ll make the trek again into cell range in a few days to get your thoughts.

Paranoia probably isn’t the only mental illness you’ll initially wonder about as you read this transcript. But as my post-doctoral advisor, you’ve known me a long time. You know I don’t drink or do drugs, and you’ve never seen any sign of bipolar or schizoid disorders or any of the possible physical causes of auditory and visual hallucinations.

As a psychological professional, I’ve carefully thought through all of that, held myself up against every standard I can think of, and I am one-hundred percent confident that all of this is real. The physical and documentary evidence I’ve accumulated is overwhelming.

Here is the transcript, exactly as it came out when I first played back the recording. I’ve tried hard to recreate the way the old man sounds, which I find somehow both very familiar and yet somehow alien—a voice from another time—and a place both strange and yet . . . home.

TRANSCRIPT 2013.08.20-21.01

(wmv file https://129.215.50.40/2013.08.20-21.01.wmv)

​This here house is my tombstone. It stands above my grave.​ Hain’t nobody alive in it—just me.

​I’m buildin’ it with my own hands: I laid ever’ stone carried from my own fields, hand-split ever’ shingle from forest king snags I felled myself, turned ever’ spade-full of earth. My own self. All alone.

I mixed ever’ bucketful of cement. I heated and twisted and soldered ever’ rod of cast iron. Maybe the hardest was learnin’ to make winda glass. But I got plenty of time.

​So far, it has took me eighty-seven years. Don’t fault me. You’re young, but I was kinda old when I started—seventy-two—and dead at seventy-two is still seventy-two.

That’s how old I was when my ungrateful spineless wretch of a daughter, my evil witch of a granddaughter, and her snivelin’, weak-kneed husband the banker boy, put me in the ground. That was 1926. A lot has changed since then. But not me. A hundred and fifty-nine years since I come to this earth, and I’m still here.

If you was to stand here and it was 1927, now, or ‘30 or ‘40 . . . now that woulda been somethin’. And there was them that done just that. Folks come out here from town sometimes—kids mostly—and fellers that had a little shine to party with, just to stand around and watch field stone rise up off the ground and set itself down in the mortar on top of a wall. They got a kick outta that.

The king rafter—now, that woulda been a sight, but there weren’t nobody here in ‘46 when I finally figgered out how to rig the ropes and pulleys to get it up there all by myself. Right proud of that, I was.

These days I guess there ain’t a whole lot to see from the outside ‘cause all the work is on the inside. But right soon—next ten years or so—it will be time for new shingles again. That’s always a sight to see.

Anyways, folks learnt right quick that it don’t bother me none for folks to watch. I never bothered with ‘em if they never bothered with my house. But if they messed with my house they was gonna get run off.

I done that a couple of times, and folks got scared enough they stopped comin’, even though I never hurt nobody—not serious, anyways. Threw a few rocks and sticks is all. They got the point.

​Been a long time since anybody come out this way. Now the road is all growed over. Only the wild pigs remember where it was.

​But you—you heard all the stories, read all them old reports, maybe you even talked to some of them self-same neighbors who act like this farm—my farm—don’t even exist, ‘cause they been told since they was bitty children that you don’t come on this land lessin you’re tetched. They know better. I reckon you don’t.

 [transcriber’s note: copies of corroborating reports from the local newspaper and sheriff’s office reports spanning decades, describing incidents on the property, have been uploaded to the secure server.]

You ask fer my story, you with your fancy cameras that see in the dark, and microphones you string with wires all around the place, and sound recorders you can hold in the palm of your hand, and your fancy Greenpeace backpack with a dangly name tag cut in the shape of the airplanes I see fly overhead, up there where they’re practically nothin’ but a white streak of smoke across the sky.

But I see like when I was fifteen years old. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my eyes. And I can read, by gum: that luggage tag says you come from New York City. New York gosh-dang City. Like anythin’ good ever come out of New York City. Except maybe the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And your electric doo-dads got the name of a fancy Scottish university painted all over ‘em. I reckon we fought the War to End All Wars for them folks. But somehow we keep having to go back over there and fight some more. Or so I heard a bunch of years back. Afore you was born, I guess.

​So here you come, all the way out here through the skeeters and ticks. You got yer flimsy little tent and a sack to sleep in and the clever little stove that heats up food outta silver pouches. You sit here outside my house three days and nights, without once knockin’ on the door like civilized folks, talkin’ to me without knowin’ am I even listenin’, like you’re talking’ to the wind.

But you tell me over and over that you respect my privacy and my history and that you just ask for my story. Like you got some right. That just ‘cause you have the same name as me and a PhD by your name, you think that will make me willin’ to talk to you. You got gumption, I’ll give you that.

Paranormal researcher, my Aunt Fanny. Fancy name for a busybody, if you ask me.

Know what I bet? I bet the oil companies sent you here. Or the timber companies. ‘Go out there to that farm,’ I bet they said, ‘and see what’s what. See if all the reports all these years is true.’ But you—you got your own reasons for comin’, I reckon. Ain’t just the paycheck.

​Well, it ain’t gonna do them companies no good, cause they ain’t gonna get rid of me or explain me away. I’m here. I’m real.

But you, Mr. Paranormal Investigator, you are in luck. You might just get famous. You might just get your face on a magazine or maybe even get to talk on the radio, you bein’ the scientist feller that can prove he talked to me, what with your cameras and sound recordings and all.

I ain’t sure it’s gonna work, but we’ll give it a try. Won’t hurt me a lick to set and talk a spell. Ain’t talked to no one since I died—no one who could actually hear me, anyways.

Wait now—I take that back: I did talk to my daughter and granddaughter two weeks after I died, and knowed darn well they could hear me, but they wasn’t in no mood to listen. And they hardly count anyways, them bein’ blood kin and all. But with you, it might just work. If you’re really a PhD paranormal researcher, maybe, as the Good Book says, you got ears to hear.

​So, I expect I’ll just sit down on the porch here and talk and we’ll see how much yer fancy microphones and cameras pick up.

 If you liked this excerpt, you can find
the rest of the story here:

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  1. […] because it has allowed me to tailor other projects (the novels AMNS and Lakshmi; the short stories Tombstone, Ganesh, and Nautilus Redux, et al) to the needs of the X, and simultaneously hone my […]

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