28 Oct Short Story – High Resolution
Here’s a little spook story for the spooky season. Hope things are going well. News soon!
by Mike Bockoven
It’s not about skill. Anyone with an attention span and gear can do what I do. It’s not about talent, whatever that is. It’s about recommendations. Good, old fashioned, networking, my man. That’s how you do it. That’s how I got my very own ghost story.
Networking isn’t hard, either, if you want to know the truth. I’m not much of a people person but I can hold a conversation and once you learn the basics, that all you need. Learn a bit about sports, learn how to be “appropriately innapropriate”, be friendly and interested. Then, once people know what you can do and how you do it, all sorts of people come calling. I never even had to put out a shingle or do anything crazy like go to Rotary meetings or join a golf club. I hate golf. I hate most people who golf but that doesn’t matter cause all I had to do was a few jobs for the right people and -pop- I was in. More work than I could handle. More work than I wanted. But the money…damn. So good.
I didn’t even go to school for this! I spend 40 plus hours a week filming and uploading and editing and color correcting and audio correcting these videos and I didn’t even know what I was doing for, like, the first year. I sort of tinkered around the edges. Watched YouTube videos. I love tech, I’ve always loved tech, so this wasn’t a huge stretch, but it was still something new. I know people who went to school, spent four years and received, like, excellent tutelage, who aren’t as successful as I am. And you know why?
That’s right. Recommendations. Networking. I got in with the right people and they told their friends and suddenly I’m the guy who does filming and editing for all the rich people’s passion projects. Every one. Oh, you need something for YouTube, darling, call Rick. He’ll make it look gorgeous.
Esmerelda, she was the first one. Weird lady. She was a beauty queen in a former life and really liked it. Like, really liked it to the point where she built her identity around it. You’ve seen beauty pageants, right? You know that part where they answer questions like “how will you use your position as Miss Upstate Illinois to bring peace to the Middle East” and you have to listen to grandiose answers about how we’re all one human race and we all need to give peace a chance? You heard those? Esmerelda, God love her, she talked like that all the time.
Pretty? Yeah, kind of. She’s attractive enough and I never saw her not made up to the nines, full jewelry, make up, hair, the works. Not once. I mean, she was in her late 40s which made it even weirder. There aren’t seniors tour for beauty queens. But, yeah, if you squinted you could see the beauty queen she used to be. I don’t know where she got her money, though I can guess, but she was loaded and she used the money on herself. The first time I was in her house the first thing I noticed, and the first thing anyone with eyeballs in their head would notice, is all the pictures in her house are exclusively of her. There’s a giant photo of her hanging over the fireplace, there are smaller framed photos of her all over the house. No friend, no family, just her. No childhood photos, either. All of them are glamour shots and they must have all cost her tens of thousands of dollars.
Right, so I ran into her at a podcast conference. I was flirting with audio engineering at the time and might go back to it now that I have the time, but that’s where I met her. I was messing around with this camera I had just bought and the split second the camera landed on Esmerelda, she smiled and started posing for me. We struck up a convo and she asked if I produced video. I don’t know what made me say it, God knows I wish I hadn’t said it, but I said “yeah”. Before I knew it, she was going to pay me $1,000 for an “initial consultation”, whatever the hell that was. Turns out, what it meant was I go over to her house, ooh and aah over her photos and get an idea of the sort of videos she wanted. Easy stuff. A livestream of her podcast, a few promo videos, and a couple of what she called “mood pieces” which are just her standing around a few locations, looking elegant, set to music. Why? Good question. Near as I can figure she liked the idea of being filmed and having some sort of product produced, right, so when no one had a camera on her she hired a camera to be on her. All this was fine with me. The work was easy, the pay was damn near extravagant…I almost felt bad taking so much from her. Almost. She was happy, I was happy, what’s the problem?
Her podcast. Ha! OK, buckle up. Her platform from her beauty queen days working with the elderly. She called her podcast “ELF” which stood for the “Elderly Love Federation” which sounds mildly pornographic now that I think of it. Her podcast was just her talking about whatever article she read about elderly care and then more of her just musing about shit for another half hour. You can still find all the episodes, I don’t think anyone took them down after what happened.
So, one of the things I learned real quick is when you’re dealing with rich people, there are always hangers on and those hangers on will do whatever they can to stay close to the source of the cash. Esmerelda, she didn’t seem to have any boyfriends or girlfriends, but there were certainly people hanging around who gave me some real hard looks the second I came through the door. There was Jackson, who was this tall blonde dude who was about as gay as gay could be. He didn’t like me at all or if he did he had a weird way of showing it. There was Carmen, who was a make up and hair lady, near as I could tell. I never saw Esmerelda before she was camera ready so I can’t say for sure. Those were the main two but there were always contractors or consultants of some sort coming and going. Like I said, lots of hangers on. I’m white, kind of nerdy, kind of tech-y, so it’s weird that I was part of that circle at all, but Esmerelda loved me. Better than that, she recommended me to all her friends and before I knew it, I was the videographer of every rich person in the tri-county area. But Esmerelda, she was my priority. She said “come film” and I always said “yes”. Without hesitation. Sometimes with very little notice.
I’d been filming her for around a month when the calls started. The number was always local and I have a lot of irons in the fire so if the number is local I usually pick up. The first few times I picked up it was just heavy breathing. Not in a perv sort of way, just enough breath to let you know someone was on the other end of the line listening to you. I’d always do the same thing – I’d start by saying “hello” and say that a few more times then hang up. At that point there were about two a week or so, not enough to be concerned but definitely enough to notice.
That changed after a week or two, I can’t exactly remember. Instead of heavy breathing it was like being dropped in the middle of a play. A voice, usually a guy’s voice but sometimes a kid’s voice, would be pleading for help. “Please help me”, “they’re going to kill me,” “why am I here?” “I can’t see, it’s too dark”, those sorts of things. Every fifth call or so was just a kid, a boy, asking “Daddy?” Over and over, like it was a question. I don’t know why, but my brain always conjured the idea of a small boy, alone and lost in the dark. That was the one that spooked me the most but they were all deeply creepy. And they escalated after a while. I remember, really clearly, once picking up the phone and a man yelling “stop, it hurts!” Over and over. Creepy as hell.
The calls picked up a bit, maybe four or five times a week, always from different numbers, at all different times of the day. They happened more at night. I’d shut my phone off at night, turn it back on and have 6 or 7 messages clogging my voicemail, each message running the maximum length of a voice mail which was six minutes at the time. That means someone was taking a half hour a night to send me creepy messages for no reason I could discern. All of it was this weird…pre-torture kind of stuff. That’s what I called it, pre-torture. Because of what came next.
Yeah, man, I tried everything I could think of to stop the calls, but at the same time…how do I put this without sounding too bad? I wasn’t that worried. That make sense? I was working with weird people so I figured one of these weirdos was doing some sort of performance art piece or social experiment or something. I would have bet a thousand dollars Jackson was behind it, trying to rattle me. Even though it was people asking for help, it didn’t seem real. It was well done, but I figured I live clean. I don’t have any skeletons in my closet, swear to God. I’m not running drugs, I’ve never hurt anyone. I’m a nerdy white guy in a mid sized American city, man. It was either a mistake, or, frankly, someone was fucking with me and I wasn’t about to let them live rent free inside my head. I treated it as an annoyance.
Things changed the night of the seance. Esmerelda was, of course, had a passionate and abiding interest in the occult and asked me to film a seance she was hosting on the night before Halloween. I guess “the veil” was thin enough the night before. Not a big believer in that crap, but she called, so I showed up. I knew the check would go through.
When I showed up there were seven people there, all of whom I’d seen around. Jackson, of course. Carmen the make up lady. One of Esmerelda’s two trainers, this one named Marlowe. A dietician who’s name I didn’t know. Then there was Nikki, who I was meeting for the first time. She was Nikki “from the club” which could have meant six or seven different things, near as I can figure. Six people around the circle, me filming, my phone on silent. Esmerelda never really gave me direction on what to film, but I sort of knew. I trained one camera on her, put a microphone near her so I could get some decent audio and, just, went around grabbing material to cut in. I figure I could get some b-roll later.
Like everything she did, Esmerelda did the seance up big. She had bought lighting equipment, or someone had done it for her, and the room was this eerie red shade. She didn’t offer much by way of explanation, no “this is why you’re here”. She just launched into it, man. “Come spirits, hear our calls to commune.” “Come spirits, bless us with your presence.” Now, I’m in a unique position, right, because everyone else has to play along, closing their eyes and joining hands, but I get to see everyone and I can tell who’s down for this and who is just here for the paycheck. And I’ve got my eye on Jackson because I figure he’s one who’s just playing along but he’s really into it. His eyes are dancing under his eyelids…you ever seen that? Like, when someone is in a deep sleep? His eyes were moving fast even though he had them closed and as Esmerelda got to her crescendo…
Let’s just say the police were glad the tape was rolling.
First, I heard that kid asking “Daddy?” Heard it clear as a bell. That was the first thing.
Second thing is Jackson just lets out this spray of blood from his mouth, a good two cups worth, at least. It was like he’d been bleeding a lot all the way back into his stomach and throat and chose the highest moment of the seance to douse the middle of the table in hemoglobin. To my credit, I kept filming. Caught the whole thing, man. Every bit of it. Of course, everyone lost their shit the second the blood hit the table and most everyone just freaked out, screaming and running around. For his part, Jackson kept retching and bleeding. I think, having seen the tape a bunch of times, at one point he was trying to scream. I can’t be sure. That’s how it looked.
Can I confess something to you? It was kind of awesome. I mean…that sounded terrible. Let me put it this way. I understood, like, war photographers a lot better after that night. Once you capture something truly terrible on camera you want to do it again. If I can brag on myself for a second, the moment where Jackson went off like the fountains at the Bellagio, I was in perfect position. I got it. The whole thing. I showed it to Esmerelda and she was all excited in a weird way. I remember she put her hand on my shoulder and said “if anything’s bothering you, you can come talk to me.” It was such a bizarre night.
An ambulance was called, Jackson is carted away, I show off my footage, head home and that night the calls just start coming and coming. Twice and hour, three times an hour, different numbers, same message. This time, whatever was happening at the other end had progressed and now…shit was going down, I guess. Lots of screaming and begging. Banging noises. It all seemed to be the same person on the, um, receiving end, I guess, but it’s hard to tell the difference between voices when someone is screaming for their lives.
It got so bad I went to the phone company to try to figure out what was up and the best solution they could offer me was to get me a different number. I couldn’t do that because, like I said, I didn’t hang out a shingle. I didn’t have a storefront. My business was all person to person. If my phone number changed I was suddenly unavailable to everyone I knew and if I sent my new number around, chances were great that whoever was doing this would just get that number, too. Nearest they could figure, whoever was doing this was generating random local numbers and calling from them. So I changed my voicemail to strongly suggest email, let my inbox fill up and didn’t answer my phone that much for about a week or so.
At that point, I don’t mind telling you, fear was starting to creep, man. At least once every day or so I would just wonder what would happen if I let the scene play out, just listened to the torture for a while and…I can’t really describe it right. I never made it. Whatever was happening on the other end of the line was so urgent and realistic, it got to that deep, little kid part of you that was scared to go into the basement. It started to gnaw on me a bit.
I know this sounds stupid, but my solutions was to go to Esmerelda.
I know. She’s fake as fake. She’s rich and out of touch. But I went to her. I live by myself and…I keep trying to tell myself I didn’t want a woman to tell me everything would be OK but if I said that I would be lying, OK. Sue me.
She was made up, of course. She always was, but it was toned down a bit and she seemed happy to see me, beyond the fake way she usually was. We sat in her overstuffed parlor and I told her all about the calls and a few seconds later, the phone rang. I couldn’t have planned it any better. She kind of nodded, gesturing for me to put it on speaker phone and I did.
There were two calls. The first one was the creepy kid asking “Daddy?” Over and over, once every two seconds or so. She got this horrified look on her face and so I hung up and the second I did, the phone rang again. This time it the other kind of call – screaming, terror, wet thumps, some electric hum in the background. I’m watching her and she just starts convulsing, like, shaking really hard. I hang up, obviously, and run over to her. She’s thrown herself back on the couch and I am able to get my hands around her shoulders and the second I touch her – poof – she snaps out of it. I immediately let go of her, I mean, you never touch the client, right? But she was cool. Shaken, but cool.
Esmerelda immediately starts apologizing to me, like she did something wrong. “I’m sorry, Rick”. “I brought this to you, Rick”. “It followed you here, Rick”. According to her, there was a spirit or some such following her around and it was trying to hurt me.
I feel the need to reiterate for you, I don’t believe in any of this shit. Seriously, that ain’t me. Ghost hunting is bullshit, psychics are for idiots and science is right 99 percent of the time. But, at that moment, I was just about ready to believe her.
Until I saw the camera.
It was a GoPro Max, red light blinking, just over Esmerelda’s shoulder. It’s this nondescript black box that could, easily, have been home decor or part of the WiFi or something, but I recognized it. I have one, myself, and they ain’t cheap but they’re excellent for this kind of work. I don’t know this for sure, but I guarantee you there was another one trained on her over my shoulder. She wouldn’t blow coverage like that.
I didn’t confront her. Not right then. But I had a good idea of where the calls were coming from.
A friend of mind is a Private Investigator and I called him and had a really late night drinking coffee and laying out the facts. He agreed with me, did a little bit of legwork and the next morning, after brunch, he and I went over to Jackson’s house on the edges of the rich part of town. He invites us in, like an idiot, and tries to shut the door with the recording equipment and automatic phone dialing device, but we both see it and he sees us see it. And he spills. And I mean he spills. The seance was for my benefit, the blood was fake, the police were fake, which was a really nice touch, and the calls were coming from inside this asshole’s apartment. They were filming with hidden cameras the whole time and they hoped I was going to get a lot more scared then I was. They had men hired to follow me around but, get this, I never left my house. I didn’t let it change my life nearly as much as they thought it would, so their little game ended up being a lot more boring than they were anticipating. Ha! I beat them by being boring and I didn’t even know I was doing it.
The long and short of it was Esmerelda was trying to get on TV. She was hoping I would flip out, she could exorcise the evil spirit, or whatever, and she could cut together a “proof of concept” reel with the hook that she was the real deal. Or that she was charming enough to get morons on tape believing in evil spirits that manifest hell through the phone or whatever.
That’s just it! I sued them all! Esmerelda is worth more than $75 million and is bored, so I gave her something to do. She was so pissed off during discovery and settled when she realized how screwed she was. I toyed around with suing Jackson and some of the rest of them, but with what I got from Esmerelda, that was enough. I’m set, brother. How much? Let’s just say she is not worth $75 million anymore. Guess networking really does pay off, right!
Yeah, the calls stopped. Of course they did. The cops even played them for me to make sure it was the same sort of messages. There was the screaming and the torture and all that.
But the crazy part? Of all the recordings in Jackson’s place, and there were hours and hours of them, there wasn’t a single recording of a kid asking for his daddy. Not one. They listened, I listened, as best I could, and it just wasn’t there. Whatever those calls were they were something else. I’ve run them through audio software and there’s nothing definitive about it, but it’s just super duper creepy.
Well, I told you I had a ghost story, didn’t I! I wasn’t lying. Wait, you want to hear it? I have a recording of one of the calls on my phone.
No, man, just listen to it. It’s creepy.
Here it is. It kind of got buried behind other stuff.