"Tony? Are you in here?" Christ, this place is a wreck. Stains on the wall, goo on the windows and furniture, and is that a scorch mark on the carpet? What’s my brother been doing in here?
"Yeah, it’s me. What’s going on in here?" Tony comes out of his bedroom and he’s in even worse shape than his apartment: hair mussed, t-shirt ripped and stained with red spots, half a pair of handcuffs on his wrist, a bandage on his nose, and it looks like he hasn’t slept in days. "God man, what’s happened?"
He bends down and begins collecting stray DVDs that are spread out all over the floor. "It’s a ghost, Jack. This place you found for me? It's haunted."
"You’re not back on that stuff again, are you? You were doing so well, living clean and finally getting a decent place to live, and-"
"It’s not the drugs, Jack. It’s the ghost."
"Right. The ghost. Listen, what say we take you back to the treatment cent-"
"I’m not high, Jack, I'm not hallucinating, and I’m not crazy. There’s a ghost in this apartment and it’s been getting at me."
"Is that what all this mess is about?"
"Yeah. It’s the ghost." He hands me a small handful of discs and, his bloodshot eyes wide, says "It’s been watching movies."
"Comedies. It’s been through my entire shelf of comedy movies in the past five days. At night it watches the movies over and over again and I hear it laugh and laugh and laugh."
"So if it’s a ghost, what’s with the wreck in here?"
"It watches movies to get ideas. Then during the day it acts them out on me."
"Acts... it acts them out?"
"This yellow stain on the wall?” he says, pointing, “It threw a pie at me. And the bandage? It put a bird on my nose; damn thing scratched and pecked at me."
I’m not buying it. Tony’s a good guy, but he’s easily influenced, and when he’s taking those drugs he completely believes whatever delusions he’s cooked up. I learned the hard way last time that the best way to get him to calm down is to play along. "Maybe you should show this poltergeist Ghostbusters. Put a little fear in it."
"It loves Ghostbusters. The white goo all over is melted marshmallow."
"I see. If it’s just the apartment that’s haunted, why don’t we leave? I’ll drive you; we’ll get you some help."
"No, no, that won’t work. You think I didn’t try leaving? I was all set to just walk out on the lease, but every time I started driving away I’d hear that damn laughter and the ghost would send me driving the wrong way."
"How did the ghost know where you were going?"
"No, no, no, the wrong way, the opposite direction of traffic! Almost ran right into a semi truck one time."
"So it’s the movies then, right?"
"Haven’t you been listening? Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Roxanne, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Innerspace, Bruce Almighty, it’s been through them all! Over and over again! And it won’t stop until it drives me mad!"
"That’s really enough, Tony. You’re coming with me now and we’re going to get you some help."
"You want to help me? You really want to help me? Then take them. Take all of them!"
"The comedies, take the comedies, take them away! If the comedies are gone, then the ghost won’t have any more inspiration and it’ll leave me alone!"
I almost ask him how he knows that’ll work, but I hold back from getting too caught up in his madness. "Alright Tony, I’ll take the comedies, but if the dru... ghost... is still a problem in the morning, promise me you’ll get some help."
"I’ll promise you, but it won’t matter, because you’ll take the comedies and then it’ll all be okay." We gather up the scattered DVDs from all corners of the apartment. Some are loose on the floor, others are broken into pieces, and I found a few stuck halfway in the wall of all places. Tony packs them up in a cardboard box and shoves it into my hands. "Just take them, take them and go. I’ll be alright, just take them and go."
"I’ll take them and I’ll call you tomorrow morning to see how you’re doing, but if the 'ghost' comes back, you call me and we’ll get you-"
"A doctor," I finish.
"Fine, fine, you go now. I’m gonna go to sleep. I’ve been up for... what day is it?"
"Thursday. Thought it was Tuesday. Long week."
Tony falls right into his bed (is that blue paint all over the sheets?) and although I’m hesitant to leave him like this, he is sleeping at least. Hopefully things will look better in the morning. In the meantime I take his precious comedy movies back to my place. I’m sure once he gets clean again he’ll come to his senses and want them back.
Back at home I toss the box on the floor near the sofa and settle in for the evening. When the phone rings sometime in the very early morning I groggily reach out and answer it, wondering what could possibly be happening so early in the morning that requires my attention. "Jack, Jack, you gotta help me." The events of the previous evening push their way back into my sleepy brain.
"It’s back, Jack. The ghost is back. It was quiet for a few hours, but-"
"Tony, listen to me. I’m going to call for an ambulance. I want you to-"
"No, Jack, no, you don’t understand. It’s the ghost. It’s been into the horror movies! The horror movies, Jack!"
"Listen, I want you to calm down. There is no ghost. I’ll call an ambulance and I’ll meet you at the hosp-"
"Oh God, it’s laughing again, can’t you hear it laughing, Jack? Tell me you hear it too!" There’s a sickening crunch at the other end of the phone, and then with the exception of the television in the background, the line is silent.
My brother’s death was ruled a suicide, and the drugs found in his system led the police to declare he had a bad trip, probably hallucinated, took a hammer, and... well, that’s about it. His funeral was closed casket because of the extensive skull fractures. I keep replaying that last phone call in my mind, over and over again. "Tell me you hear it too..."
The hell of it all is that the more I think about it, the more I think I really did.
Written for I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Text: The 2005 Halloween Horrorquest