Well, I knew it was the end of the world for sure when I walked into
my den and found William Shakespeare sittin' in my BarcaLounger.
At least I think it was him. Anyways, it was one of them fellas wore
starched collars and a velvet suit and said a lot of "thees" and
"thous" like they used to do every year at the high school senior
play down the road. I called Vera in. I said, "Vera, come in here
and take a look at this right quick!" and she came runnin'. Of
course, we'd seen ghosts before, just like everybody else in the world
had by then, but Will Shakespeare sittin' in your den watchin'
Crosswits on the TV is a damn peculiar sight.
Every so often he'd speak, as if he were tryin' to answer the
Crosswits questions. Then he'd rest his head back, and I saw
him close his eyes and heard him say, "Woe is me," clear as a church
bell. By then Ben Junior had come in, and he pressed in between his
momma and me, and we all three watched the ghost tryin' to talk to the
man on TV. Ol' Will was the same as the other spirits: He wasn't all
there. Oh, you could make him out all right, and even see the color
of his hair and skin and suit, but he was kinda smoky too, and you
could see the chair right through him. He reached out toward the lamp
beside him, but his hand was misty and couldn't touch it. "Woe is
me," he said again, and then he looked at us standin' in the doorway.
His eyes were sad. They were the eyes of a man who was lost on a long
trip and couldn't find the right road again.
Vera said, "Would you like me to change the channel?" She was
always mannerly to house guests. Even uninvited ones. Ol' Will
started to fade away then, bit by bit. Didn't surprise us none,
'cause we'd seen the others do it too. In another minute just his
face was left, floatin' in the air like a pale moon. Then nothin' but
his eyes. They blinked a couple of times, then those were gone too.
But we all knew ol' Will hadn't vanished for good, and he hadn't gone
too far away neither. He was like all the other ones roamin' around
the haunted world. Hell of a mess, that's for sure.
Wasn't too long before Ben Junior said, "Dad?" and he motioned me
and his momma over to the big picture window in the front room, the
one that has such a pretty view over the meadow. It was October, and
the world was turnin' deep red and purple. The sky was that
greenish-gray it gets just before it happens. Vera said a while back
that the sky reminds her of a lizard's skin, and I guess that about
hits the nail on the head. Ben Junior pointed, and he said in a quiet
voice, "There's another one."
Vera and I looked, and of course we saw it. Have to be blind as a bat
in a Bundt cake not to see one of those things, once they get started.
The tornadoes are always that peculiar lizard-skin color. One of 'em
whipped right across Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., the
other day. I saw it on the five o'clock news. Anyway, there was a
tornado whippin' and whirlin' down the hillside into our meadow not two
hundred yards away. Things started poppin' and creakin' in our house
like the whole place was fixin' to come unjointed. A light bulb blew
out and right after that the power went. "Lord," Vera whispered,
standin' beside me in the lizard-green light. "Lord have mercy."
You could see 'em in the tornado, goin' around and around and tumblin'
over each other from the bottom of the cone to the top of the spout.
How many were there it was hard to say. Hundreds, I reckon. Some of
'em were smoky, but others looked just as solid as you and me. The
tornado was spittin' 'em out hither and yonder, and they were fallin'
to earth like autumn leaves. They drifted into the treetops and onto
the grass, and they fell over the fence and onto the road that leads
to Concordia. Some of 'em were tattered to pieces, like old rags
caught in the blades of a lawn mower, but others stood up and
staggered around like Saturday night drunks. The tornado took a turn
away from our house and marched up the hillside again toward the
south, spittin' out ghosts with every whirl, and then Vera reached out
and pulled the curtains shut, and we all stood in the twilight
listenin' to the trees moan as the tornado went on.
"Well," I said, because there wasn't much else to say. Deep
subject, I know. Cold, too. Vera walked over to the wall switch and
flicked it up and down with a vengeance, but the power wasn't goin' to
come back on for quite a while. "There goes a hot dinner," she
said, and she sounded like she was about to cry. I put my hand on her
shoulder, and then she kind folded up against me and hung on. Ben
Junior sneaked a peek through the curtain, but what he saw he didn't
care for, because he let the curtain drop back real quick.
Someone---somethin'---called from outside. "Mary?" It was a man's
voice, and it was terribly lonely. "Mary? Are you in there?"
I started to go to the door, but Vera held me tight. We both knew I
had to go. I pulled away from her, and I went to the door and opened
On our front porch stood a frail-lookin' man with dark hair slicked
back and parted in the middle. He wore a dark suit---black or brown,
I couldn't really tell. His face was pale and kinda yellow, like
spoiled milk. He took a step back when he saw me, and he was wearin'
old high-top shoes. He was shiverin', and he looked around himself.
If he saw all the others staggerin' about in the meadow, nothin'
registered on his face but pure puzzlement. Then he looked at me again,
and when his mouth opened, his voice was like the chilly wind. You
felt it more than heard it. "Mary? Is Mary waiting for me?"
"Mary's not here," I told him.
"Mary?" he asked again. "Is she waiting for me?"
"No," I said. "Not here."
He stopped speakin', but his mouth stayed open. His eyes looked wet,
like those of a dog that had just gotten kicked in the ribs. "I
don't think you know anybody here," I told him, because he seemed to
be waitin' for somethin' else. And then his mouth closed, and he
turned away from my door and started across the meadow in his
high-topped shoes. "Mary?" I heard him call. "Mary?" He started
fadin' away as he passed a Roman soldier sittin' sprawled in the
grass, and he was almost gone when a little boy in knickers ran right
through him. The man who was searchin' for Mary faded away like a
Polaroid left in the noonday sun too long, but the Roman soldier
stayed where he was, and the little boy ran into the woods. There
were maybe forty or fifty others out in the meadow, wanderin' around
like strangers at a weird garden party. Or a Halloween party, it
bein' October and all. Out on the edge of the meadow there was what
looked like somebody from Revolutionary times, a skinny man wearin' a
powdered wig and a three-cornered hat. Near him was a cowboy in a
yellow duster. Over there on the other side was a black-haired woman
in a long blue gown that trailed on the grass, and not far from her
stood a man in a suit, lookin' around as if he was waitin' for the next
bus. The blue mist of ghosts trailed from the trees like cobwebs and
drifted over the meadow in an ankle-deep haze. Ghosts were all in the
woods, and you hear 'em babblin' and calling' in a bedlam of accents
and languages. "Dan!" I heard one American-speakin' woman---ghost,
I mean---shout from over on the edge of the woods. "Damn it, Dan,
where's my robe?" she hollered, as she walked buck naked across the
grass. Not walked, actually. Kinda wobbled is more like it. The
wind hit her and tattered her to pieces so we didn't have to look at
her big, old flabby butt anymore. Ben Junior was peekin' out beside
me, and I shoved him back inside and shut the door.
Vera and I just stared at each other, there in the gloom, as the
ghosts hollered and chattered outside. We heard an Indian
war-whoopin', and somebody screamin' that she'd lost her cat, and
somebody else raisin' a ruckus in what sounded like Greek to me. They
were all searchin' for their own world, the one they used to be part
of. But of course they couldn't get back there. They couldn't find
anybody or anythin' that was familiar, because this wasn't their world
anymore. It was our world. And that's the hell of it. See?
I remember what Burt Truman said. I remember, because it seemed so
right. Burt looked at me, his eyes huge behind those bottle-bottom
glasses he wears, and he said, "You know why this is happenin', Ben?
Well, I'll tell you my opinion. You take the air and the water
nowadays. Both so polluted you can't take a safe breath or a decent
sip. And what happened on them beaches last summer, all that garbage
and crap washin' up 'cause the ocean can't take no more. He lifted up
his glasses and scratched his nose. "Seems to me heaven---or
hell---can't take no more either. And all the dead folks are gettin'
cast back up on shore. Whatever that place is that kept the dead, it's
full to overflowin'. The dead folks are washin' back up into our
world, and that's God's truth or I ain't sittin' here in Clyde's
"Bullshit," Clyde said as he clipped Burt's side burns. Clyde has a
voice like a steam shovel with stripped gears. "Damn ghosts are comin'
through the ozone hole. That's what they said on Dan Rather
"God's shut with us," Phil Laney offered. He's a deacon at the Baptist
church, and he was gloomin'-and-doomin' long before all this started.
"Only way for us to fix this is to get down on our knees and pray like
we've never prayed before. I mean, serious prayin'. We've got to get
right with God before this thing'll be fixed."
"Hell, this thing's done broke to pieces," Luke McGuire said. Ol'
Luke's a big fella, stands about six foot three and wears raggedy
overalls, but he's got the best farmland in south Alabama. "Just like
a machine," he said as he rolled himself another cigarette. "You bust
a cylinder on your tractor, ain't prayin' that gets it fixed. You bend
a blade on a tiller, you don't get on your knees and kiss the ground
until it's straight again. Hell, no. The world's a machine. Thing's
done broke to pieces, and the repair shop's shut down."
This was the sort of conversation that could fill most of a Saturday
afternoon and evenin' and still leave you goin' in circles. But I
mostly thought of what Burt said, about the dead overflowin' and
washin' back up into our world. The tornadoes brought 'em back, of
course, but I knew what he meant. Heaven and hell were like busted
pipes, and the ghosts were spillin' out.
And right about then, as Luke and Phil were arguin' hammer and tongs,
a knight in tarnished armor walked past the window of Clyde Butler's
barbershop. Walked right out in the street, he did, and Mrs. Beacham
in her green Oldsmobile swerved the wheel and crashed into the front
of Sammy Kane's Stag Shop for Men. Clothes dummies flew all over the
place, broken arms and legs lyin' on the pavement. That knight just
kept on goin', fine as you please, and he took a few more rusty steps
before he vanished into the unknown. But he didn't go far. We all knew
that. He couldn't go far, see. He was still stuck in the haunted
world, like all the other dead folks.
After all that commotion had died down, Luke McGuire picked his teeth
with a splintered match and brought up the question: "How come the
ghosts are wearin' clothes?"
Not all of 'em were, of course, but most of 'em did. We thought about
that for a little while, and then Luke went on in that thick drawl of
his that always makes me think of mud simmerin' in the bottom of a
ditch. "Clothes," he said. "Ghosts of people are one thing. But are
they wearin' ghosts of clothes?"
We drifted into talkin' about what ghosts were, and that was a tangled
thicket. Then Clyde brought up the next skull knocker. "Thank God
they're ghosts, that's all I can say." He brushed hairs off Burt's
shoulders. "Not solid, I mean." He glanced around at everybody, to see
if we'd gotten the point. We hadn't. "You can drive cars through
ghosts. You can put your hand through 'em. They don't need food or
water, and they can't touch you neither. Take that fella in armor just
walked past here. Think you'd like to feel him slap you upside the
head? I looked out my window this mornin' and saw the woods full of
damn ghosts, blowin' in the breeze like old newspapers. One of 'em had
a long black beard and carried a sword 'bout as big as ol' Luke. Think
you'd like to get stabbed a few times with somethin' like that?"
"Wasn't a real sword," Luke observed sagely. "Was a ghost of a
"Yeah, and thank God for that," Clyde steam-shoveled on. "What do you
think would happen if every body who ever died in the whole world came
"We might find out," I said. "Seems like that's happenin' right now."
I knew, like we all did, that this thing was happenin' not just in
Concordia, Alabama, but in Georgia and North Carolina and New York and
Illinois and Wyoming and California and everywhere else under the sun.
Ghosts were roamin' the streets of London and Paris, and stompin'
through Red Square. Even the Australians were seein' ghosts, so when I
say haunted world that's exactly what I mean.
"Thank God, they're ghosts and not real," Clyde said, as he finished
up on Burt. "There you go." He handed Burt a mirror. "Slicker'n owl
Luke switched on the barbershop's TV to catch the midday news. There
was a report from Washington, D.C. It showed somethin' that looked
like Thomas Jefferson, sittin' on the steps of the Capitol and cryin'
his eyes out.
It hit me then, as I was standin' in the gloom starin' at Vera and the
ghosts were catterwaulin' outside. The power was out. How were we
gonna see the TV show tonight? They'd been advertisin' it for a week.
Tonight Tom Edison was supposed to be a guest on the Johnny Carson
show. I'm talkin' about the Tom Edison who invented the light bulb,
the genuine article. Seems Edison---his spirit, I mean---had been talked
into appearin' on TV. Tonight was the night. Shirley MacLaine was
supposed to be a guest too, but she wasn't even dead yet, so what did
she know? Anyway, the power was off!
I went to the phone and called Clyde. "They got the juice back on over
here," Clyde said, speakin' from eight miles away. The phone was
hissin' with static, but I could hear him good enough. "I just got a
call from Phil, too," Clyde told me. "His TV's out. I reckon mine is
at home too. You want to watch that show, come on over to the
barbershop tonight. Hell, I'll get us some beers and we'll have a time
I said that was a fine idea. Ben Junior was tuggin' at my sleeve, and
Vera was starin' out the window again. I hung up the phone and walked
over to see what had been roused up this time.
More Roman soldiers were out in the meadow. I guess they were Roman,
but I'm not sure. There were about a hundred of 'em, and they had
shields and swords. Ghost shields and swords, I mean. And there were
about a hundred or so Chinese-lookin' fellas too, half-naked and with
long braids in their hair. Well, the Romans and the Chinese had taken
to fightin'. Maybe they were tryin' to finish up an old battle, or
maybe all they knew was fightin' and that was their job. The Romans
were swingin' their ghost swords, and the Chinese were kickin' with
their ghost legs, and nothin' but mist was bein' hit. From out of the
woods swarmed other ghosts: cowboys, musketeers, guys with bowl-shaped
haircuts and long robes, women in lacy dresses, and black Africans
with animal-skin shields and spears like in that English movie Ben
Junior and me watched one Saturday. All the ghosts swirled around each
other like they were part of a big churnin' whirlpool, and I'm tellin'
you that the noise they made-hollerin' and screamin' at each other was
somethin' fearsome. No doubt about it: Even when people were dead,
they still couldn't get along. Then a few dogs were even runnin'
around out among the ghosts---ghost dogs, snappin' at ghost ankles.
Maybe there was a horse or two out there, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it
looked like Animal Heaven had started overfiowin' too. "Lord save us!"
Vera said, but Ben Junior said, "Neat!" and I saw he was grinnin'.
Boy's got a strange sense of humor. Takes after me, I reckon, because
I was kinda fascinated at the sight of all those ghosts tanglin' and
Vera turned away from the window, and that was when she screamed.
I looked. I think Ben Junior let out a strangled squawk. It might've
been my voice.
Standin' in front of us, right in our pine-paneled livin' room, was a
red-bearded man with a double bladed battle-ax. That sumbitch stood at
least six foot six, taller even than Luke McGuire, and he had on some
kind of ragged animal skin and a metal skullcup with bull horns
sticking out on either side of it. His face looked like a lump of meat
wrapped up in wrinkled leather. He had green eyes under red brows as
big as scrub brushes, and he let out a holler that shook the room as
he lifted that battle-ax up over his head.
What would you have done? I knew he was a ghost and all, but at a time
like that you don't think exactly calm. I shoved Vera out of the way
of that battle-ax, and I picked up the first thing that came to hand:
a lamp table beside the couch. The lamp flew off of it, and I thrust
that little wooden table up like a Vikin' shield, my shoulders tensin'
for the shock.
It didn't come. The battle-ax, a misty thing, went right through the
table. I swear I saw a glint of metal, though, and old blood on the
edge. I could smell that sumbitch, sure enough; he smelled like a dead
cow. He took another step forward, crowdin' me, and he flailed back
and forth with that battle-ax like he really thought he was gonna hit
somethin'. His face was splotched with red. Ever heard the expression,
"mad as a ghost"? I just made it up, 'cause he was mad as hellfire
sure enough. He chopped the ax back and forth a dozen times, and the
rage on his face would've been terrible if he'd been flesh and blood
instead of colored mist. I laughed, and that made him madder still.
The ax kept whippin' back and forth, through the table. I said,
"Fella, why don't you put that toy away and get the hell out of my
He stopped choppin', his big chest heavin' up and down. He glared at
me for a minute, and I could tell he hated me. Maybe for bein' alive-I
don't know. Then he gave a growl and started to fade away. His beard
was the last thing to go. It hung in the air for a few seconds,
workin' as if it still had a mouth under it, and then it went.
"Is it gone? Is it gone? Ben, tell me it's gone!" Vera had scrunched
herself up into a corner, her arms hugging herself and her eyes wide
and starey. I didn't like the looks of them. Ben Junior was kinda
dazed. He stood where the Vikin' had been, feelin' around in the
"It's gone, hon," I said to Vera. "Wasn't ever here, really. You
"I've never...I've never...seen anything...like that." She
could hardly get a breath, and I set the table down and put my arms
around her while she trembled.
"They're not real," I told her. "None of them are. They're
just...pictures in the air. They hang there for a while, and then they
go away. But they're not real. Okay?"
She nodded. "Okay," she said, but she sounded choked.
"Just a minute. You want me to go get you an aspirin? You want to lie
down awhile?" I kept my arms around Vera, for fear her knees might
"Dad?" Ben Junior's voice was a little higher. "Look at this."
"I'm all right," Vera said. She had a strong constitution. Livin' on
a farm for over twenty years makes you that way. "See what Ben Junior
I looked over at the boy. He was standin' there, starin' at the table
I'd just set down. "Dad?" he repeated. "I...don't think this was here
"What wasn't there before?" I walked over beside him, and I saw what
he was talkin' about.
On the table's surface was a single diagonal scratch. It wasn't much.
The tip of a nail might've done it. Only Ben Junior was right, and I
knew that at once. The scratch hadn't been there before. I touched it
to make sure it was real, and ran my finger along its length. The
lamp's base had green backing on it, to keep it from scratchin'
anythin'. I looked at Ben Junior. He was a smart boy, and I knew he
knew. And he knew I knew, too.
"Vera?" I tried to sound calm, but I don't think I did. "Let's drive
on into town and get some dinner. How does that suit you?"
"Fine." She took my hand and wouldn't let go of it, and I walked with
her to the closet to get her sweater. Ben Junior went back through the
hallway at a cautious pace, stirrin' the air before him with his
hands to make sure nothin' was there, and a minute later he returned
with a jacket from his room. I got my wallet and the keys to the
pickup, and we went outside into the gray-green twilight. The driveway
was full of fightin' ghosts: Chinese, Romans, an Indian or two, and a
husky fella wearin' a kilt. I backed the truck right through 'em, and
none of 'em seemed to mind.
On the drive to Concordia I turned on the radio, but all the stations
were screwed up with the most god-awful static you ever heard. I
switched it off real quick, because the noise sounded to me like the
whole world was screamin'. Vera touched my arm and pointed off toward
the right. Another tornado was movin' across the hills, blowin' red
leaves' before it and leavin' ghosts in its wake. The sky was green
and low, shot through with pearly streaks. Half-formed, misty figures
swept past the truck. I turned on the windshield wipers.
We passed Bobby Glover's pasture. There were so many ghosts wanderin'
and staggerin' around that field it looked like a spirit convention.
Things that looked like pieces of filmy cloth were hangin' in Bobby's
barbed-wire fence, and they were growin' arms, legs, and heads. An old
woman dressed like a Pilgrim was walkin' in the middle of the road,
and she saw us comin' and made a noise like a cat gettin' skinned as
the truck went through her. I looked back in the rear-view mirror and
saw blue mist floatin' in the air where the Pilgrim lady had been a
second before. Somethin' occurred to me real strange just about then:
Somewhere in the world my own father and mother were wanderin'. Vera's
mother, too; her father was in a rest home in Montgomery. Somewhere
all our ancestors were out in the haunted world, and the ancestors of
everybody who'd ever drawn a breath. I hadn't seen any ghosts of
babies yet. I hoped I wouldn't, but you never knew. Peculiar thoughts
whirled through my brain, like those red leaves thrown by the tornado:
My father had died six years ago, and my mother had gone on a year
later. They could be roamin' the jungles of Brazil or the streets of
Dallas for all I knew. I hoped my father didn't come back in Tokyo.
He'd fought the Japanese in World War II, and that would be pure hell
About three miles from Concordia, we came upon a station wagon that
had gone into a ditch. Both the front doors were open, but nobody was
around. I stopped the truck and was gonna get out to take a look, hut
I heard what sounded like Indian war whoops off in the woods
somewhere. I thought about that scratch on the table, and I swallowed
hard and drove on.
I took the next curve pretty fast. Anyway, we were on him before we
knew it. Vera screamed and her foot plunged to the floorboard, but of
course the brake pedal was on my side, and I sure as hell wasn't gonna
He looked more ape than human, really. He was monstrous, and he wore a
tattered lion's skin that still had the lion's head on it. He bellowed
and charged the pickup, his fangy teeth showin'. I tried to swerve,
but there wasn't much use, and I sure didn't want to go into a ditch.
The caveman lifted a club that had sharp rocks embedded in it, and he
swung that thing like it weighed a feather.
The club turned to mist an instant before it would've hit the fender.
I heard the caveman bellow again---right up next to my head, it seemed
like---and I gave the truck all the gas she could handle. We sped on
down the road, the engine poppin' and snarlin'. I guess that
caveman---ghost of a caveman, I mean---must've thought we were
somethin' good to eat. I looked in the rearview mirror, but he was
"It wasn't real, was it?" Vera said in a quiet voice. Her gaze was
fixed straight ahead. "It was just a picture that hung in the air,
"Yeah, that's right," I answered. I thought about the scratched table.
My fingers were clenched real hard around the steerin' wheel. That
table hadn't been scratched before the Vikin' sumbitch had swung his
ax at me. My mind was wanderin' in dangerous country. The Vikin' was
a ghost, with the ghost of a battle-ax. Just a picture, hangin' in
the air. So how come the table was scratched, as if the slightest edge
of metal had grazed it?
I didn't care to think about that anymore. Such thoughts made the hair
prickle on the back of your neck.
Concordia was a small town, hardly much to look at, but it had never
been prettier. The sun was goin' down fast, into a lizard-skin
horizon, and Concordia's street lights were glowin' in the murk. We
went straight to the Concordia Cafe. It was crowded, I guess because a
lot of folks had the same idea as us. Bein' with real people was a
comfort, though the food was as bad as usual. You can be sure that
ghosts were the prime topic of conversation, and every so often
somebody would holler for everybody else to look out the windows and
you could see spirits on Main Street. The sky flashed and flickered,
blue lightnin' jumpin' from horizon to horizon, and we all sat in the
Concordia Cafe and watched the parade of ghosts. Here came a fella
dressed up in a tuxedo, his hair gleamin' with pomade, and spats on
his shoes, and he was callin' for somebody named Lily in a broken
voice, ghost tears runnin' down his cheeks. Then a Nazi soldier ran
past, carryin' a ghost rifle. A little girl in a nightgown, her hair
red and curly, staggered along the street callin' in a language I
couldn't understand. Some of the women wanted to go out and help her,
but the men blocked the door. It was a ghost little girl, and the hell
if we wanted her in here among the livin'.
A whole bunch of 'em wandered past the cafe: half-naked Egyptians
brown as berries, women in gaudy dance-hall duds, a pair of fellas in
those tall caps with fur on 'em, and ghosts in rags. And then the
ghost of a boy about twelve, Ben Junior's age, came over and peered in
the cafe's window, and he was joined by the ghost of a woman with long
white hair and no teeth. A man in a striped prison suit looked in
another window, and peerin' in over his shoulder was the ghost of a
tall, skinny fella in clown makeup. In a few minutes more they were
all around the cafe, starin' in through the windows at us, and Lord
knows our appetites fled. Fifty or sixty ghosts were out there,
lookin' in and maybe longin' to join us. Grace Tarpley, the head
waitress, started closin' all the blinds, then Mitch Brenner and Tommy
Shawcross got up from their tables and helped her. But as soon as all
the blinds were down and the windows sealed up, the ghosts outside
took to moanin' and catterwaulin' and that was the end of our dinner.
Some folks---live folks, I mean---started cryin' and wailin' too,
specially some of the children. Hell, I even saw a couple of men break
down and start bawlin'. This wasn't no fun, that's for sure.
Anyway, the noise comin' out of the Concordia Cafe must've scared the
ghosts off, because their voices started gettin' fainter and fainter
until finally it was just the live people moanin'. Then Gracie let out
a scream that almost lifted the roof, because the old farmer sittin'
by himself at a booth in the back, an untouched cup of coffee on the
table before him, suddenly stood up and faded away. Nobody had known
him, but I guess we all figured he was from the next county. It was
gettin' so you couldn't tell the livin' from the dead anymore.
The night moved on. It seemed like nobody wanted to go home to their
haunted houses. Jack and Sarah Kelton came by our table for a few
minutes and said the power was still out their way and they'd heard
the lines were all fouled up. Which didn't sound so good, since the
Keltons lived about two miles closer to town than us. The lights
flickered off and on a few times in the cafe, which made everybody
scream to high heaven, but Gracie said the men were workin' on the
wires down the road and not to worry because there were plenty of
flashlights and candles. As Jack talked on about seein' a ghost he
swore was Abraham Lincoln strollin' along Highway 211, I looked out
the blinds and watched the blue lightnin' cracklin' across the sky. It
was a bad night here. Hell, it was a bad night everywhere.
I don't know how many cups of coffee Vera and I had. Ben Junior got
stuffed on potato chips, and gettin' his belly full is a true miracle.
Anyway, the crowd started thinnin' out, folks decidin' to go home to
sleep---if they could sleep, that is. It was almost time for the
Johnny Carson show, and I paid the bill and took Vera and Ben Junior
to Clyde's barbershop down the street.
The regulars were there, and the cast-iron stove was stoked up warm
and ruddy. The TV was on, the show about ten minutes away from
startin'. We found chairs and sat down next to Phil and Gloria Laney.
Luke McGuire was there with his wife Missy and their two kids, the
Trumans were there and so was Sammy and Beth Kane. Clyde had a few
sixpacks of Bud ready, but none of us felt like a beer.
The show started, Johnny Carson came out---all serious this time, didn't
even crack a funny---and he showed a few old pictures of Thomas Edison.
The first guest was a fella who'd written a biography of Edison, then
Mickey Rooney came on because he played Young Edison in a movie a long
time ago. The next guest was a man who talked about the ghosts
appearin' all over the world, and he said ghosts had been seen from
the Sahara desert to the South Pole. He was an expert, I guess, but
exactly what at I don't know. While the talkin' was goin' on, buildin'
up to Edison appearin', I was thinkin' about the scratched table. What
had made that mark? The edge of that Vikin's battle-ax? No, that
couldn't be! The ghosts were just pictures hangin' in the air. They
weren't real. But I thought about that station wagon we'd seen in the
ditch on the way to town, and the sound of Indians war-whoopin' in the
I remembered Clyde saying, "What do you think would happen if
everybody who ever died in the whole world came back?"
Ghosts of everybody who'd ever died was one thing. But what if---I
liked to choke thinkin' about this...what if everybody who'd ever died
in the whole world did come back? Maybe as ghosts first, yes,
but...maybe they weren't always gonna stay ghosts. Maybe death had
reversed itself. Maybe some of 'em were already turnin' solid, a
little piece at a time. As solid as the sharp edge of an ax blade. As
solid as Indians, who'd pulled somebody out of their station wagon
I shook those thoughts out of my head. Ghosts were ghosts. Weren't
Shirley MacLaine came on next, carryin' a crystal ball. She said Thomas
Edison was a good friend of hers.
And then it was time.
They lowered the lights in the studio, I guess so Edison wouldn't get
spooked. Then all the guests started callin' his name and Johnny
Carson asked the audience to be real quiet. They guests kept on
callin' Thomas Edison's name and askin' him to join them, but the seat
next to Johnny's desk stayed empty. It went on awhile, and pretty soon
Johnny got that look on his face like when he has a talkin' dog on the
show and it won't pip a squeak. I mean, the whole thing was almost
ridiculous. "I need a beer," Luke said, and he reached for one.
His hand never got there. Because suddenly we all gasped. There was a
shape just beginnin' to take form in that empty chair next to Johnny's
desk. Some of the audience started talkin', but Johnny hushed them up.
The shape was becomin' the body of a man: a white-haired, sad-faced
man, dressed in a wrinkled white suit that looked as if it had been
slept in for quite some time. The figure got clearer and clearer, and
damned if it wasn't the man who was in those old yellowed
"Got on clothes," Luke rasped. "How can a ghost wear clothes?"
"Shush!" Phil told him, and he leaned closer to the TV.
Clyde turned up the volume. Thomas Edison his own self was sittin' in
that chair on the Carson show, and even though the lights were dim he
blinked as he looked around as if they stung his eyes. He was
tremblin'. So was Johnny, and 'most everybody else. Thomas Edison
looked like somebody's frail, scared old grandpap.
"Hello, Mr. Edison," Johnny finally said. He sounded like he had a
chicken bone caught in his throat. "Can I...call you Tom?"
Edison didn't answer. He just shook and gasped, plain terrified.
"Stage fright," Burt said. "Happened to me once when I gave a speech
to the Civitan Club."
"Tom?" Johnny Carson went on. "Do you know who I am?"
Edison shook his head, his eyes wet and glassy.
"Mr. Edison," Shirley said, "we're all your friends here."
Edison gave a soft moan, and Shirley recoiled from him a little bit.
"Tom?" Johnny tried again. "Where did you come from?"
"I...don't..." Edison started to speak, but his voice was wispy.
"I...don't..." He looked around, gasping for words.
"I...don't...belong here." He squinted at the audience. "I
don't...like this place."
"We all love you," Shirley told him. "Tell us about your journey, and
what you've seen on the other si---"
If ever hell broke loose on earth, it was the next instant.
Somebody in the audience took a picture. You could see the quick pop
and glare of the flashbulb, right in Tom Edison's eyeballs. Another
flash went off, and a third. Johnny Carson jumped up and shouted, "No
pictures! I said no pictures! Somebody get those cameras!" The studio
lights came on, real sudden. Tom Edison almost jumped out of his
chair. People in the audience were rushin' the stage, and Johnny
Carson was yellin' for everybody to stay back, but you could hardly
hear him over the noise. More flashbulbs were poppin', and I guess
somehow the reporters had gotten into the studio when they weren't
supposed to be there. Lights flashed in Tom Edison's face, and all of
a sudden he reached out and plucked that crystal ball off Shirley's
lap, and he threw it straight into the TV camera that was trained on
him. The camera smashed, zigzag lines goin' all over the screen.
Another TV camera trained on Edison and caught him as he stood up,
screamed at the top of his lungs, and vanished in a whirl of blue
mist. "Everybody sit down!" Johnny was shoutin'. People were still
tryin' to get closer, and now you could see folks grapplin' with each
other like a backwoods wrestlin' match. "Everybody please sit---"
The screen went dark. "Somebody stepped on a cord," Burt said. Static
jumped and jittered across the screen, and then a message came on:
NETWORK DIFFICULTY. PLEASE STAND BY.
We stood by, but the Carson show didn't come back on. "He picked it
up," Luke said quietly. "Did you see that? He picked it up."
"Picked what up?" Clyde asked. "What're you babblin' about?"
"Thomas Edison picked up the crystal ball and flung it," Luke told
him, and looked around at the rest of us. "A ghost picked up somethin'
solid. How can a ghost pick up somethin' solid?"
Nobody answered. I almost did, but I kept my mouth shut. I didn't want
what I was thinkin' to be true. Maybe I should have said somethin',
but the time slipped past.
Lightnin' flared and crackled over Concordia. About three seconds
later, the barbershop's lights flickered once, twice, and went out.
All of Concordia lay in darkness. Vera grasped my hand so hard I
thought my knuckles were about to bust.
"Well, that's that," Clyde said. He stood up in the dark, and Luke lit
a match. In its pale glow we all looked like ghosts. Clyde turned off
the dead TV. "I don't know about everybody else," he said, "but I'm
goin' home and get a good night's sleep, ghosts or not."
The group started breakin' up, and Clyde locked the doors. "We ought
to go to the Holiday Inn over near Grangeville," I told Vera and Ben
Junior as we were walkin' back to the pickup. "Maybe they'll have the
power on over there. All right?"
Vera wouldn't let go of my hand. "No," she said. "I can't sleep in a
strange bed. Lord knows all I want to do is get in my bed and pull the
covers over my head and hope I wake up from this nightmare in the
"Holiday Inn might be safer," I said. Instantly I regretted it,
because Vera stiffened up. "Safer?" she asked. "Safer? What's that
If I told her what I was thinkin', that would be all she wrote. You'd
have to peel Vera off a wall. Ben Junior was listenin' too, and I knew
he knew, but still and all, home was where we belonged. "All right,
hon," I said, and put my arm around her. "We'll sleep in our own bed
tonight." Vera relaxed, and I was mighty glad I hadn't steered her
into dark, deep water.
We started off. The pickup's headlights were a comfort. Maybe we
should sleep in the truck tonight, I thought. No, we'd all have
cricked backs in the mornin'. Best to get on home and pull the covers
over our heads just like Vera wanted to. I found myself thinkin' about
the rifle down in the basement. I ought to get that out and loaded.
Wouldn't hurt to have it beside the bed if I needed---
"Look out, Ben!" Vera shouted, and I went for the brake, but too
The caveman was standin' in the road. He snarled and lifted that club
studded with sharp-edged rocks, and as he swung it I could see the
muscles ripple in his ape-like shoulders.
I expected the club to turn to mist. I wanted it to. I prayed for it,
in that long instant as it came at the fender in a powerful blur. Oh,
God, I prayed for it.
The club smashed into the front of our pickup truck with a shock that
lifted us all off the seat. Vera screamed and so did Ben Junior, and I
think Ben Senior let out a scream too. One of the headlights shattered
and went out. I felt and heard somethin' boom and clatter in the
engine, behind the crushed radiator. The truck lurched, and steam
bellowed out around the crumpled hood. The caveman jumped back as the
truck passed him, but I think he was scared just as witless as we
were. I looked into the rearview mirror and saw him standin' there in
the glare of the red taillights. Lightnin' flared behind him, over
dark Concordia. I think he was grinnin'. He swung his club, and he
started lumberin' along the road in the direction we were goin'.
The truck was laborin'. "Come on, come on!" I said, and I kept my foot
to the gas. Vera's scream had broken; she was a shakin' moan, pressed
up against my ribs. "He hit us, Dad!" Ben Junior said. "That sumbitch
"Yeah," I told him. Wheezed it, really. "Yeah, I know he did."
The truck kept goin'. Chevy builds 'em strong. But I watched the
gauges and I listened to the engine racketin', and I knew the eight
miles home was askin' way too much.
Finally, with a groan and a shudder, the engine quit. I let the truck
coast as far as she'd go, and I prayed again, this time for a slope to
take us home, but I knew the road was flat as a flounder all the way
to our front porch. We rolled to a stop, and we sat there.
"We've stopped, Dad," Ben Junior said.
I nodded. One part of me wanted to wring his neck. One part of me
wanted to wring my own neck. Vera was sobbin', and I put my arm around
her tight. "Don't cry," I said. "We're all right. We're gonna be fine.
Don't cry, now." She kept cryin'. Words were cheap.
We sat for a while longer. Out in the night we could hear the
freight-train roar of a tornado movin' through the hills. "Dad?" Ben
Junior said at last, "I don't think we ought to stay here all night."
I hadn't raised a dummy, that was for sure; I was the dumb one, for
not insistin' we go to the Holiday Inn.
I hesitated at openin' the door. Vera was clingin' to me, and I'm not
sure whose heart was poundin' harder. I was thinkin' about the
caveman, with his club that must've weighed seventy or eighty pounds.
He was between us and Concordia, and every second we wasted brought
him closer. I got out of the truck real quick, pulled Vera out, and
Ben Junior scram bled out the other side. Lightnin' crackled overhead,
and you could hear tornadoes moanin' in the night.
"We've got to get home," I said, maybe just to steady up my own
nerves. Once I had my hands on that rifle and we were shut up in our
bedroom with our backs to the wall, we'd be just fine. "Sooner we
start, the sooner we'll get there."
"It's dark," Vera whispered, her voice shakin'. "Oh, Lord, it's so
I knew she was talkin' about the road that lay ahead. I knew every
curve and bump in it, but tonight it was a road that led through the
haunted world. Out in the woods were Indians, Roman soldiers, Nazis,
Chinese karate kickers, at least one Vikin' with a battle-ax, and God
only knew what else. And behind us, maybe stalkin' somethin' good to
eat, was a caveman with an eighty-pound club.
And all of 'em, all the ghosts, maybe gettin' more solid by the hour.
What was gonna happen, I wondered, when all the billions and billions
of people who'd ever died in the world were back on earth again,
hungry and thirsty, some of 'em peaceful folks for sure, but others
ready to chop your head off or bust your skull with a club? One rifle
suddenly seemed an awful puny thing. I had a thought: If we got
killed, we wouldn't stay dead very long, would we?
The tornadoes sounded closer, whirlin' more ghosts into the woods. I
said, "Come on," in the calmest voice I could manage, and I pulled
Vera along with me. Ben Junior walked close to me on the other
side, his hands clenched into fists. We had a long way to go.
Maybe a car would come along. Maybe. This wasn't a night fit for
travelin'. The road ahead was dark, so very dark. We had no choice but
to walk it.