A response to the idea of "ghost stories without ghosts," this anthology includes stories by John McManus, Todd Grimson, Andrew Gallix and other authors familiar to fans of Fiddleblack's hard-to-parse self-definitions (antipastoralism and concept horror). The collection's twelve stories are nothing if not equally enunciative, atmospheric and carved sharply into floorboards and muck-spattered glass. No, there's nary an actual ghost involved, but this work is clearly haunted.
“…Better than any fiction I’ve read in years.”
—Tom Bradley, 3:AM Magazine
Apparitional Experience is built by twelve writers investigating on their own terms, examining nostalgia and risk, and how these elements can reconfigure our perceptions of self against place, how we’re sometimes duped into rationalizing our own existence. Here, our ghosts are not the reappearing spectral dead. Our ghosts take the shape of people and relationships once lost or forcibly forgotten, faded missions and feelings, and motivations no longer there. The writers of Apparitional Experience have written something for the fallen dreams, in a sense, for the very possibility of loss of control in our everyday lives, and the isolationist thoughts that possibility might bring.
This anthology demonstrates twelve interpretations of these elements from authors with rather different bodies of work all converging at a single dark center. John McManus characterizes rural perversity, and Mark Welborn walks us down a beautiful, densely haunted hiking trail. Joe Ricker and Charles Dodd White independently reinvigorate conventions for the modern Southern Gothic. Elias Marsten gives us rote antipastoralism, Kevin Catalano brings us an example of hyperintensive horror without limits, and Nicholas Rombes channels a particularly asphyxiating H.P. Lovecraft to counter a dark and new journalistic account of the Great Recession by Daniel Roberts (see below). Bringing in the book’s final third is a dizzying piece of Thomas Ligotti-inspired work by Adam S. Cantwell, followed by an astringent body horror narrative by Karin Anderson. Todd Grimson’s woozy three-part flash fiction recalls David Lynch, and, to close, worth the cover price alone, is a completely pure example of concept horror by Andrew Gallix.
Apparitional Experience, as you may find, does not make for light reading in any sense of the phrase. There is much more to fear in the natural world, fear enough that these authors do not ever find true mirrors to the supernatural in their work. Rather, they discover that there are no ghosts. There is nothing out there past the concrete, past the trees. In the face of that person you hate and fear, there is no evil spirit, no broken. There is nothing all around us. Nothing at all.
I didn’t mean to get so pissed off about that, when you laughed at that chick. Truth is I get pissed when people laugh at people that have a stutter, because my little brother had one. Or has one, I guess. Has it permanently. It was gone for a long time, but then it came back. It got triggered.
These two people kept telling Ma that our summer house was haunted. These two people were just two old bags that lived on our drive, but you know how my mom can be, and she heeded their jittery phone calls. She listens to nervous nellies like that. This batty old couple, they don’t know how to use email, I don’t think.
“Estelle said they see lights on when we’re not there. She said Albert hears noises when he walks by. And then he looks in and doesn’t see anyone!” Albert and Estelle. Perfect names for a couple of perfectly boring old bags, right?
“They’re so nosy, Ma. And they’re crazy,” I told her. “We do have an alarm, you know. No one can get in there.”
Next thing I know, Paulie and I are in my car anyway. We’re zipping down the open freeway, open because nobody’s headed to the water on a Friday night in winter. Ma said I had to go check it out. “You’re no alarm expert,” she reminded me. “And bring your little brother!” None of us had been by the house since August. “Who knows, maybe the alarm turned off because of the cold,” she said. I rolled my eyes. “Right, because alarms stop working in the winter,” I said on my way out.
“I hope there’s a ghost!” said Paulie after all of four minutes in the car.
“There isn’t,” I told him.
He wasn’t listening. He was rapping with Eminem on the radio. You know the song: You said if I write you, you would write back! See, I’m just like you in a way. I never met my father neither.
“Hey, dipshit,” I told him, “You’re not a troubled rapper. You’ve met your dad.”
“But I don’t remember.”
“Yes, you do,” I told him. “People can remember things from when they were five. You just want to act special.”
It was six-thirty, pitch black and real cold out, when we turned down the gravel driveway and the little house came into view. Sure enough, there was a tiny light on in one of the back windows. I couldn’t believe it.
It was the small lamp in our dad’s old office. I acted like I didn’t notice when Paulie started to breathe heavy beside me. I figured the carpenter had left it on, this Tommy or Johnny who came to check on the house once a month or do repairs. Figured it was also him who the golden oldies were hearing when they walked by some days.
When we stepped inside the house, I felt dizzy. The place smelled real musty and there was a sort of hanging dread in there or in me and I didn’t bother taking my sneakers off like we were normally supposed to, you remember that, how my mom makes everyone take off their shoes. I reached for the main light switch and it didn’t work, which really made no sense. You’ve seen our house. It’s modern, it’s not some shack. I turned to the right and stepped into the kitchen. I could feel Paulie crouching behind me. Like I said, it was dark, but there was a man in our kitchen.
I could see the contours of his puffy coat thanks to the moonlight coming through the kitchen window, which I saw was broken. Some alarm system. Or maybe I never armed it last time I was there. The man was standing over the sink area doing something with his hands. He looked very large. Real dirty, too. It was like every cliché we had ever picked up about homeless people, right there in front of us—matted hair, gross beard. He looked just like the ones we see in the city. It was kind of funny but actually not at all, really.
For a second I couldn’t find my voice, like in a nightmare, one of those where you try to yell, but then I blurted out, real loud, “Who are you” and he turned around and put both his hands up. Paulie whimpered, like “ohhh-unnhh.”
So this man said something like “Mmm nursery, nursery, liddin at the whir to go.” I didn’t know the island had homeless people. I didn’t think I understood him, but then I sort of processed it and I figured out he had said, “I’m very sorry—very sorry. Didn’t have nowhere to go.”
Paulie was trembling behind me. “You gotta get out,” I said. The man put his hands up higher and said something like, “Gup, yup.” It was so goddamn dark. I kept getting scared when he moved his hands around.
We followed him into Dad’s old office like we were a funeral procession, and the room was filled with his stuff—huge boots on the floor, mud on the floor, and the bed all slept in. He put the boots on, stuffed everything in a trash bag (I fuck you not, a trash bag) and hustled out. No more words. I shut the front door hard, bolted it.
Paulie had sort of collapsed in a chair. I stood and rubbed his back. He was hyperventilating. “F…” he started. “F-first dad dies here in that…”
I won’t imitate him further, but there you go. It happened that way. I remember I was all shit, shit in my head, because everything he worked for with the school speech therapist was erased. He said how it was bad enough dad had died in the scary local hospital that one summer. But now, you know, this.
I tried to calm him. “Slow down,” I said. “Shut up for a sec and breathe.”
The room felt very cold, but not even the temperature, really. More like something foreign was in there. The man was gone, obviously, but still. I don’t know. It didn’t feel like my dad’s old office anymore, is my point.
He looked up at me, eyes real big, and said with some difficulty that he didn’t want to come back again. I’m sure he believed what he was saying, in the moment. I let him keep it. “Okay Paulie, sure, let’s go now.”
I led him outside, locked the front door, which felt somehow pointless, and held his gloved hand with my bare hand. We drove home with no radio on.