Monday, September 10, 2012


The next two months are very exciting for me. I will see the publication of several works I'm highly proud of, both long and short. Here's a linear update on all the happenings.

Friday, September 14th
TRUST (Short Story)
Etopia Press

This title will be released as a standalone eBook, then it will see print in October's annual anthology of dark fiction from Etopia Press.

Tuesday, September 25th
PSYCHOS: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, edited by John Skipp
Black Dog and Leventhal 
This is the latest installment in New York Times Bestselling author John Skipp's subgenre-specific mega-anthos. My first fiction sale was to an earlier entry in this series: Werewolves and Shapeshifters. Here I'm working with Scott Bradley once again, this time bringing you a sharp little number called "Straycation." Hope you'll check it out.
How can you go wrong with this lineup?
Jim Shepard
Edgar Allan Poe
Joan Aiken
Richard Connell
Ray Bradbury
Robert Bloch
Ed Kurtz
Laura Lee Bahr
William Gay
Thomas Harris
Jack Ketchum
Joe R. Lansdale
Mercedes M. Yardley
Steve Rasnic Tem
Lawerence Block
David J. Schow
Neil Gaiman
Leah Mann
Kevin L. Donihe
Leslianne Wilder
Bentley Little
Adam-Troy Castro
John Gorumba
Violet LeVoit
Christopher Coake
John Boden
Scott Bradley and Peter Giglio
Cody Goodfellow
Weston Ochse
Amelia Beamer
Elizabeth Massie
Nick Mamatas
Simon McCaffery
Mehitobel Wilson
Brian Hodge
Robert Devereaux
Kathe Koja
Tuesday, October 16th
Ravenous Shadows
This is the first of many collaborative novels from Scott Bradley and Peter Giglio.
Here's the skinny:
Ben Pilot was a TV star, until some bad decisions cost him his career,
wife, and child. Now broke and alone, he manages a video store in the
shadows of Hollywood.

But tonight, the shadows just woke up, crawling across the face of Los Angeles. It’s a sentient Darkness that can shut down your power, tear you to pieces, or peer deep into your soul.

If Ben wants to save his family, he will have to move fast, across a blackened nightmare landscape of rampaging death and possession.

Where the light is the only safe place to hide. Too bad it’s dying fast…

"An ass-kicking one-night-only L.A. apocalypse of the soul."
- John Skipp

"One hell of a writing team... read anything they produce."
- Joe R. Lansdale

"This is the perfect example of why horror matters."
- Joe McKinney

"...a unique, frighteningly potent force of evil and its impact on one man, his estranged wife, and their child."
- Mark Protosevich, screenwriter of The Cell and I Am Legend

October (Date TBD)
Nightscape Press
A novella by Peter Giglio with an introduction by Stoker-winning author, Joe McKinney...

Edgar is a ghost cursed to spend his nights at Sunfall Manor, an apartment complex that was once a farmhouse in the flatlands of Nebraska. Every night he must move through five different dwellings, haunted by the living–a drunken and paranoid writer, an abused housewife, a colder-than-ice web-mistress, a two-bit drug dealer, and a crazy old man who plays with puppets–trying to unlock the secrets of who he is. But tonight is different. The lost souls of Sunfall Manor are ready to give up the ghost, and the past is ready to open its cold, unforgiving arms.
"Sunfall Manor is a gem of a story that reminds me of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio ... vignettes of lives lived and lost with touches of sadness, regret, and vengeance. A tale sure to send more than a few shivers up your spine ... and your soul."

—Rick Hautala, author of INDIAN SUMMER and LITTLE BROTHERS

 “A lesser thinker might have been content with a haunted house story. A lesser storyteller might have been content with a tale of discovery, or perhaps one of ghostly revenge. But Peter Giglio has more up his sleeve than ghosts and creepy old houses. He’s even got more than mere philosophy.”

—Bram Stoker Award winner Joe McKinney, from his introduction

"Any horror fan who's properly awake has been following the crazily productive visionary exactitude of Peter Giglio. He slings plainsong toughness pressurized by pop-eyed mania. SUNFALL MANOR's not his debut, though it's his debut masterpiece: A cold-trance-inducing, five-click merry-go-round about a rundown dwelling in the flatlands that feels more like a schizoid colony in outer space. This thing should be a major film, though we'll have to wake up Kubrick to do it right. A work of art that you'll be judged for missing."

Late Summer
BORDER NOIR, Edited by Alvaro Rodriguez
Vao Publishing
This anthology includes the short story "Eyeballs and Assholes in El Paso" by Scott Bradley and Peter Giglio.

I just ran across this information on the VAO Publishing website:
Due to production snags, VAO Publishing regrets the need to push the release of Border Noir to December 2012.


Welcome to Part Two of Blogging the Ghost, our celebration of Ghost Month.

If you missed Part One of Blogging the Ghost on Joe McKinney’s website, you can find it here.

If you missed the BTG kickoff podcast at Dark Discussions with our brilliant host Philip Perron, you can still listen to it here.

Now it’s time for today’s offering, which I’m really excited about, and I’m sure you’ll share that excitement when you discover the two great pieces we have for you—a damn-near novelette-sized ghost story from Joe McKinney, and an essay from the talented Peter N. Dudar about his favorite ghost story.

If you haven’t read Mr. Dudar’s outstanding haunted house novel from Nightscape Press, A Requiem for Dead Flies, you can pick it up here. Joe McKinney’s paranormal police procedural, Inheritance, is coming in November from Evil Jester Press. And in October, my strange ghost novella, Sunfall Manor, will be released by Nightscape Press. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to talk about that one for a bit…


When it comes time to work on a particular project, it’s usually because I’ve signed a contract to write it or it’s been on my schedule of spec projects for a long time. Commitments are important to me. I don’t miss deadlines, I stay busy, and I follow my plans. I’m a very goal oriented writer and editor, and I’m notoriously “tick-tock” in my clockwork ways.

ButSunfall Manor is different. It never showed up on a schedule because it wasn’t planned. And yet it’s the piece of long fiction that I’m most proud of; the piece that I’d be the most willing to hand to family members and say, “Here, read this. This is what I do.”

I don’t want to talk about the influences associated with the novella. I talked about that stuff in detail on the Dark Discussions podcast, and I hope you will listen to it. I simply hate to repeat myself. I’m not saying I don’t frequently do it. I just hate it.

What I will talk about is time. Time has much to do with Sunfall Manor, both in what allowed the work to live and in the themes the book explores.

Many see time as the enemy. And ultimately, they’re right. Entropy, regardless of your spiritual bent or worldview, is impossible to refute. Try. You’ll fail.

But time can also be an ally. Yes, an ally. Sure, we fear the ticking clock. We dread the things we have to do, and our ultimate demise. But there’s something I like to call “Earned Time.”

Earned Time is routinely when I watch movies, read books, and take vacations. It’s the window that comes at the end of a really long and dark hallway, a period in which I push myself hard to not only get things done on schedule but to get them done ahead of schedule. Sometimes I earn an extra week, sometimes two.

This past June, after finishing my novel BeyondAnon way ahead of schedule, I had a bunch of time on my hands. Tommy Shaw from the rock band Styx might have said, “Too Much Time on My Hands.” But I didn’t see it that way. I had a month before I needed to start my editing projects for Evil Jester Press.

What to do, what to do?

I’d been talking a little bit with Mark Scioneaux over at Nightscape, a new small press that I was really impressed with, about submitting something, but I didn’t have anything to send in…yet. So I’d just write something, right?

It wasn’t that easy.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a fast writer. I don’t rush anything. I just work extremely long days until I’m happy with a project. It’s an obsession, and once I get into a project, it consumes me entirely. I don’t want anyone to think I just dashed Sunfall Manor off without a care in the world. In fact, I drove everyone around me crazy while I was writing it.

Thank God it only took 4 days.

That’s right. I wrote Sunfall Manor in 4 days. 4 days in which I got about 5 hours of sleep. 4 days in which I drank a month’s worth of coffee. 4 days in which people were convinced I was killing myself.

Was I right to do this? Probably not. If I’m honest with myself, I was damned wrong on every level. But, in my humble estimation, the story is right as a result. This was the product of my Earned Time. How I chose to spend it. What I wanted to do with it. I’ve never worked harder in a shorter period. I might never do it again. But this is what I wanted to do...this time.

I spent the next week rewriting and editing and polishing and doing all the things that a serious writer must do, but I was able to sleep and breathe easily. I wasn’t yelling every third word. I wasn’t impossible. Hell, I was at peace. My baby was alive. She was healthy. She needed a little of this and a little of that, but that wasn’t a problem. She was going to be okay. And I loved her. Still do.

Nightscape bought the novella less than a week after I sent it in. Eric Shapiro (Director of Rule of Three and Jack Ketchum’s Mail Order) and Darwin Green (Several projects in development) have already taken out a three year film option on the work, which has earned praise from HWA Lifetime Achievement Award-winning author Rick Hautala, Joe McKinney (who also penned the book’s introduction), Gene O’Neill, Jeremy C. Shipp, Tracy L. Carbone, Trent Zelazny, and David Bernstein.

Can you tell how proud I am? I hope so. But here's what I learned:


The mind…

A worn hardwood floor in an old house…

The weathered face that speaks of a lifetime of hard work…

What we find in the cracks are often the most valuable treasures.


A Perspective on Haunting

Peter N. Dudar

When I was a kid, we used to play a game called “Ghost in the Graveyard.” It was a variation on hide-and-seek, where one of the hiders would be christened “the Ghost”, and upon being discovered by the seeker would be charged with hunting down all the other unfound hiders and chasing them back to “safety” (or home-base, or what have you). I remember being a child, and being absolutely frightened every time it was my turn to be the seeker, wondering just which other neighborhood kid would be the one to jump out and shout “Ghost in the Graveyard!” before chasing my chubby butt back to the front steps of my house. For me, it really elevated the game because it brought an edge of fear and suspense…even though I already knew that there WERE NO GHOSTS involved with the game. It was only hide-and-seek, after all.

Some of the best ghost stories I’ve read have no ghost whatsoever. There are two that stand out with distinction, in my opinion, and I think they deserve a bit of credit among ghost fans. These two tales fooled us all into thinking there are actual ghosts in them, and both have changed the course of supernatural literature enough to be considered cultural icons.

First published in 1820, Washington Irving’s THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW brandishes one of literature’s (and the horror genre’s) most beloved ghost: The Headless Horseman. Irving’s story centers around Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher from Connecticut that travels to Tarry Town, New York to become a school teacher. Crane is welcomed into the home of Baltus Van Tassel, one of the town’s more prominent citizens. Van Tassel has a lovely daughter named Katrina, and young Crane is smitten with her. The problem is that Sleepy Hollow’s town big-shot, Abraham (Brom Bones) Van Brunt, is also in love with her. The conflict between the two is not at all advantageous for Crane. Irving characterizes Crane to be tall, gangly, and a touch on the effeminate side. How easy it would be for Brom Bones to just bully the schoolteacher right back to New York. Instead, Brom chooses to share a bit of oral tradition by rehashing the tale of the Hessian soldier that was decapitated by a cannonball, and still roams the countryside nightly, looking for a new head. Instead of bullying Crane, Brom chooses to make sport of him in front of the lovely Katrina.

Where Irving cunningly elevates the tale to something greater than just a story is by allowing the story’s dénouement open to interpretation: Was Crane indeed chased out of town by the Headless Horseman or was it Bram Bones in disguise? We’re lead to believe it WAS Brom, but there’s that small part of us that want the legend to be true…we want there to be a ghostly horse-riding apparition, with his saber raised and ready to claim its next noggin (how he’d keep it attached, God only knows).

The great thing about LEGEND is that, in its nearly two hundred years of publication and being enjoyed by high school kids everywhere, it is STILL as popular and topical as ever. Even the name SLEEPY HOLLOW sounds frightening. We see most of the letters of the word HALLOWEEN in there. In Walt Disney’s cartoon version of the story, the Horseman hauls around a flaming Jack O’Lantern in place of his head, lending more to the whole Halloween vibe. And in the Tim Burton remake of the story (with plot stretched wafer-thin, but still captivating), we’re FINALLY offered the real ghost we’ve been waiting for.

The problem is we didn’t actually NEED the ghost to sell the story. Our minds did it all for us. Christopher Walken is delightful to watch, particularly for those who’ve never read the story, but it’s just more frightening that we never know for sure if Ichabod Crane (the schoolteacher, rather than Johnny Depp’s steam-punk investigator from NYC) escaped from Sleepy Hollow with his head still intact…or if he even survived at all.

On the other side of the coin is Shirley Jackson’s near-flawless 1959 novel, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. HAUNTING centers around a group of people commissioned to investigate some paranormal activity in the creepy old manse built by Hugh Crain (and you’ll please note the similarity between Crain and Crane). Luke Sanderson, the heir of Hill House, wants to be sure the house is safe, so he brings in Dr. Montague (a scientist), Theodora (a psychic), and Eleanor Vance (a sensitive character that may have had experienced paranormal activities in her youth). In penning her opus, Ms. Jackson never tilts her hand as she deals out the cards. We know there are supernatural phenomena going on within the walls of Hill House, but not once does she openly reveal that Crain’s ghost is, in fact, haunting the joint.

What we’re offered, instead, is an unparalleled supernatural experience. For it seems as if Eleanor Vance is being singled out in terms of the haunting. While the other characters experience minor occurrences, Eleanor is flat-out being almost possessed by the house. Jackson issues the line “Journeys end with lovers meeting,” which seems more a decree or an open invitation for Eleanor to find her completion by becoming a part of whatever is haunting her.

This leaves us wondering if the place was ever haunted at all, or if this is all taking place inside Eleanor’s head. By Jackson’s refusal to flat-out tell us that there IS a ghost, by her refusing to name the thing that inhabits Hill House, she’s forcing us to make our own interpretation, just as Irving did with his story. Jackson is relying on tone and atmosphere to sell her story rather than confirming the presence of the ghost.

This is the crux of the Anti-Ghost…if it IS indeed within the story, then WE are the author of it. This is the key to the human brain; it will fill in the blanks for us when we don’t have all the information we need. We jump to conclusions. We seek to explain the inexplicable and justify the questionable. And, for most of us fans of dark fiction, we know what we like.

Case in point: You’re lying in bed and your bedroom door suddenly swings open. You can’t see what caused it…you only experienced it through observation. Your brain begins to draw its own conclusions. Did a ghost just enter the room? If you’re afraid of the dark like I am, then your answer is probably, “Yes, and I’m scared.” Chances are that it’s not paranormal activity. When I see the bedroom door slip open, I know that either one of my cats just nudged it and came in to snuggle, or that I left the hall window open and a breeze came in. BUT…when you’re reading a horror novel (or watching a movie), and a door suddenly swings open, that’s a different story. Why? It’s the power of suggestion. It’s no different than feeling afraid of a ghost while playing a glorified version of hide-and-seek. It’s psychological. The door swung open BECAUSE something unearthly, something dark and sinister just entered the room.

I’m sure there are many other great examples of the Anti-Ghost, some done better than others. Here in our BLOGGING THE GHOST Tour, I felt that it did bear mentioning that there is a difference between ghosts and the supernatural, and that this topic does add a touch of illumination to the realm of ghostly hauntings.

After all…most of us are “seekers” at one time or another, and it really does help if we know what we’re after.

Exciting news! 
Peter N. Dudar's debut novel will be a free eBook at this weekend (September 15 and 16). For more information about the book, click here.
Now it's time for a brand new piece of fiction from Joe McKinney, a near-novelette sized ghost story that was too big to fit into this post. Click here to read it now.




copyright (c) 2012 by Joe McKinney
My call sign.  I slid my Diet Coke back into the cup holder and keyed up the mic.  “52-40, go ahead.”
“52-40, make 1238 West Mulberry for a ringing 10-58.  1238 West Mulberry.”
A ringing 10-58 is a residential burglar alarm, an easy call.
“10-4,” I said.
The dispatcher again.  “I got anybody that can go along with 52-40?”
It was a hot and humid Saturday night in early June, less than a week after the Spurs took their fourth NBA title in less than ten years, and we were getting hammered with calls, all the drunken idiots out celebrating, the crackle of gun fire and car horns echoing over the houses of San Antonio’s west side.  I didn’t expect anybody to answer up.
“52-40,” she said.  “Sorry, Steve, I got nobody else available.  Use caution.  Next one to check in, I’ll send him your way.”
“10-4, 52-40, on the way.”
I was smiling as I answered.  These dispatchers on deep nights, the overnight shift, they’re something else.  A lot of them are trying to land cops for husbands, and since they’re stuck downtown at the 911 dispatch center, and we’re out in our cars, their voices are the only bait they’ve got to put out there.  Annabelle, our dispatcher for the West Service Area, had a smoky, backroom voice that could make a call for a dead dog in the road sound sexy.
I hit the KEYCARD button on my patrol car’s laptop computer and got the screen that told me everything dispatch knew about the call.  At a glance I had information on who made the call, what time they called, a brief narrative telling me what they’d told the dispatcher, and any special location notes, like if somebody at that address was a known felon, or a mental case, or if they had AIDS, that kind of thing.  This keycard, it told me the call originated with the alarm company monitoring the property.  The location notes told me a San Antonio Police Officer lived at the house.  I took in that piece of information and got out my map book.
I’d been in SAPD for twelve years at the time, but most of that had been spent working the North Service Area on the daylight shift.  A rough breakup with a psychopathic Hooters waitress had me itching for an all around life change, and so I transferred to deep nights, working 11 pm to 7 am.  I knew it even then that you can’t fix what’s wrong on the inside of you by changing the outside of you, but switching shifts still felt right, like it was just what I needed.  Still, I had never worked on the west side, and I didn’t know my way around.  The first couple of weeks, just about every call I made I had the map book in one hand, the steering wheel in the other.
The call turned out to be five blocks from where I was sitting.  I made it in a little over a minute and stopped two houses down from my call, but on the opposite side of the street.  Those are basic patrol tactics.  You never stop right in front of where you’re going, just in case there’s something more going on than what the dispatcher knows.  Maybe the call’s a hoax and there’s a nutjob with a hunting rifle waiting in the bushes to take out the first responding officer.  Who knows?  It’s happened before.
The house was a small, wood-framed one story built on a pier and beam foundation.   The walls had once been painted white, but the weather had worn them as gray as a field mouse in places.  The front yard was a weed patch that needed serious work.  The house was surrounded by scraggly chinaberry trees and a lone red oak swayed in the warm night breeze in one corner of the front yard.  It was pretty much what I’d expect from a house bought on a cop’s salary.
I got on the radio and said, “52-40, I’m 10-6 at the location.”
“10-4,” Annabelle said, “you want me to hold the air?”
Her question meant, Do you want me tell everybody else to stay off the radio until you tell us everything is okay?  That’s standard procedure when you pull up on a burglar alarm and you’ve got an open door or a broken window.
I scanned the house and said, “Negative, 52-40.  I’ll let you know.”
“10-4,” she said, “standing by.”
I crossed the street at a trot and got into the shadows.  I had my flashlight at my side, but turned off, and the top thumb snap on my holster open so I’d be ready to pull my Glock should I happen to surprise a burglar climbing out a window.  The night was warm and humid and the cloying smell of magnolia trees in bloom was heavy on the air.  The clouds overhead were backlit by the moon, turning them a milky gray.  I kept to the bushes, got up close to the house, and listened.
Using the thumb switch on my flashlight, I lit up the right side of the house with quick bursts.  I kept moving the whole time to keep the light from giving away my position.  The side of the house looked clear, and so did the front porch.  I opened the screen door and jiggled the door knob just enough to see if it was still locked.  It was.
Satisfied, I went around back and checked the back door, the windows, and even poked my flashlight beam around the roof.
I relaxed a little.  Burglar alarms go off all the time, but rarely because of a burglar.  More often times than not it’s the weather, or a faulty wire someplace, or even a cat jumping up on an outside window sill.  I was beginning to think that’s what I had here, another tom cat out looking for some tail.
The only part of the house I hadn’t checked was a narrow strip of grass near the fence on the left side of the house.  I lit that up with my flashlight, and it was empty too.  There was nothing there but the air conditioner chugging away with everything it had, trying to keep up with the heat of a South Texas summer night.
I didn’t bother with quick flashlight bursts.  This was another false alarm, and I was hungry, my mind on where I was going to eat.  I wiped the sweat from the back of my neck and walked up towards the front.  There was a window about two-thirds of the way up the length of the house, so I stopped to check that out.  I figured, Hey, it’s a fellow cop’s house.  Might as well be thorough, right?
The window was locked, but it looked new.  It still had the price written on it in yellow grease pencil - $79.95 - and a little white and green sticker in the bottom right corner promised an energy-saver guarantee.
As I stood there looking at the price, I felt somebody bump against my shoulder.
It scared me so badly I nearly jumped out of my boots.  I spun around, fumbling my gun out of the holster, certain I was about to be in for the fight of my life.
But I was all by myself.
“What the...?” I said.
My heart was a wild bird banging against the walls of my body armor, and the sweat that had been running down my back and flooding my armpits turned cold against my skin.  I turned the flashlight beam up and down the side of the house, but there was nothing there.
I stood still for a long moment, gun in one hand, flashlight in the other, trying to make my heart slow down.  That bump was real.  It was the same as some guy in hurry forcing his way past you to get off a crowded elevator.  It wasn’t a malicious, knock-you-down kind of bump, but it was real.  There was no mistaking that.
I’ve got this inner voice that tries to keep me on the straight and narrow.  It started talking to me when I was a kid, right after I watched James Mason play Richard Straker in the film version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.  Why that voice should sound like a character that scared the piss out of me I’m sure I don’t know, but whatever the reason, as I was standing there, I heard James Mason say, “Now Steve, let’s not act foolish.  Approach this rationally.  Do what you have to do to figure this out.”
I obeyed the voice.  I always obey the voice, at least most of the time.  I climbed up on the bottom rail of the privacy fence and turned my light on the neighbor’s yard.  All I saw there was an orange and white cat sleeping on a lawn chair.  The cat opened one eye, decided I wasn’t worth the effort, and closed it again.
I stepped down from the fence and turned my light up and down the length of the house one more time.
Still nothing there.
But I had felt something.  I was certain of that.
I remember once, working daylight up on North Patrol, I stopped this beat to hell red pickup for rolling through a stop sign.  I got up to the driver’s side window and saw this skuzzy looking white guy in his early forties behind the wheel, trash all over the floorboards, the ash tray overflowing with crushed out cigarettes, and a cute looking Hispanic girl just a hair passed eighteen sitting in the passenger seat beside him.  The girl was nicely dressed in a tartan skirt and white blouse, expensive-looking jewelry around her neck and on her fingers, well-cared for by somebody.  And she looked so nervous, so frightened.  I swear to God I could see her shaking.  The picture didn’t add up.
I got the guy’s driver’s license, ran it, and he came back as a registered sex offender, out on parole for aggravated sexual assault of a minor.  The girl was eighteen, but she didn’t look it.
My first thought was, Oh crap, the girl’s about to get raped and left for dead in a ditch someplace.
I went up to the truck and told the guy to get out.
He said, “What for?”
I said, “Because I fuckin’ told you to.  Now get your butt out of the truck before I yank you out by your teeth.”
I searched him, then put him in the backseat of my patrol car.  After that, I went up to the girl.  I got her out and we stepped around to the front of the truck.  I put her so the cab of the truck was blocking the guy’s line of sight, and I asked her the guy’s name.  She didn’t know it.  I asked her how she knew him.  She didn’t answer.  I asked her if everything was okay.  Is this guy taking you somewhere you don’t want to go?
“If he’s up to something, tell me.  I won’t let him hurt you.”
The girl didn’t answer me.  She was looking at the shine on the toes of my boots, at the dirt on the ground, anywhere but at my eyes.
“If you need help,” I told her, “this is your chance.  Tell me what’s going on, and I’ll help you.  I can have another officer come by here.  He can take you home, or to a friend’s house.  Anywhere you want to go.  Just tell me what this guy is up to.”
When the girl answered, her voice was so quiet I had to lean in to hear.
“I just want to leave,” she said.
I said something else, but she turned away and climbed back into the truck.  I couldn’t believe it.  I just stood there, staring at her profile through the passenger window, the girl wringing her hands in her lap, her black, shampoo commercial hair falling around her face.
But I had no choice in the matter.  There was nothing I could use to justify arresting this guy beyond my own James Mason voice yelling inside my head that she was a lamb headed for the slaughter.  James Mason said, “Steve, if she’s lucky, all he’s gonna do is rape her.  If she isn’t, he’ll rape her, then kill her, then dump her body in a shallow grave someplace.  Do something.”
But she was eighteen, free to do as she liked, and I had no probable cause.  No leg to stand on.
To this day I think about that traffic stop and I have a sinking, sick feeling in my gut.  I missed something important that day.  I didn’t something that I might have done.  I know it.
And I had that same feeling standing there by the window with the $79.95 written in yellow grease pencil on it.  Something was wrong, and I wasn’t seeing what it was.  
Annabelle’s voice on my radio brought me back to the moment.
“52-40, everything all right?”
“10-4,” I said.  “The house looks secure.”
“10-4. Just checking, Steve.  I got a family disturbance holding in your square when you clear from there.”
No dinner break for me, I thought, and grumbled an acknowledgement back at her.
She said, “Don’t be mad at me, Steve.  I’m just the messenger.”
That caught me by surprise.  You never hear that kind of informal speak on the radio.  And it took me several moments after that to digest the hurt in her voice.
I said, “52-40, I’m not mad.  I’ll be done here in a minute.  Just hold on to the call and I’ll be heading that way.”
“Okay, Steve.”
I paused, thinking about her voice.  I wet my lips and said, “Thanks, Annabelle.”
That did it.
One of the other guys on the shift keyed up his radio and whistled, the universal sign that you’ve just done something over the radio that’s going to earn you a nickname - and that’s almost never good.
I waited for the sergeant to get on the air and tell us to knock off the chatter, but if he was listening, he evidently decided to let it die down on its own.  I was grateful for that.  Being new to the shift, I didn’t need the aggravation of pissing off the sergeant.
The exchange with Annabelle helped me put some distance on the sinking feeling in my gut, and I made my way back up to the front of the house.  I checked behind the chinaberry trees at the front, just in case, then turned and looked toward the street.  The only thing that looked out of place was my patrol car parked along the curb.  I turned off my flashlight, shook my head, and started towards my car.
I knew an officer about six or seven years ago named Bob Fields.  Bob was round and bald and kind of dopey, and he had a tumor a little bigger than golf ball growing in his brain.  The tumor made his hands shake something awful, and when he talked to you, he would start off a sentence like normal, but forget what he was saying by the time he got to the period.  One time, he parked his patrol car in a convenience store parking lot, went in for a hot dog and a cup of coffee, and when he came out again, couldn’t find his car.  He got on the radio and called it in stolen.  Luckily, a few of us got there before the sergeant did, found him walking around in a circle less than twenty feet from his where his car was still parked, and set things straight.  The sergeant never even had to get out of his car.
It was understood on my shift, Bob Fields did not make calls.  If the dispatcher messed up and gave him one anyway, somebody would answer up and take the call for him.  It didn’t matter whether you were close or not, whether you were busy or not, Bob Fields did not make calls.
Yes, we covered for him.  I make no apologies for that.  And don’t bother with any criticism, because I’m not sorry about it.  Not even a little.
See, Bob was nine months away from being able to retire at full pension.  All he had to do was put in twenty years and six months of service.  If he didn’t make the twenty and six, he’d be forced to take a medical retirement, and that only pays fifty percent of your pension.  We all knew Bob would be dead less than a year after retirement, but we also knew that, according to our police contract with the city, his widow was guaranteed ten years of payments on his pension, even if Bob was dead, and we wanted her to have that much at least.  And so, Bob Fields did not make calls.
One day, during one of his more lucid moments, Bob told me how he found out about the tumor.  He said he was driving down the road in his patrol car, and he saw this bus bench floating about three feet off the ground in the middle of the street.  Bob admitted that he was hardly the smartest man who ever lived, but even he knew that wasn’t right.  He went to the doctor, they did an MRI, and the next the thing you know, the rest of us are taking his calls and he’s praying for twenty and six.
For some reason, Bob’s description of that bus bench floating in the air stuck with me, and as I walked to my patrol car, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a little golf ball-sized demon floating around inside my brain.
“Maybe,” James Mason said.  “You do drink an awful lot of Diet Coke.  There’s no telling what all that phenylalanine is doing to your gray matter.”
I made it about halfway across the street - then froze in my tracks.  There was somebody in the backseat of my patrol car.  He was hunched over with his head against the plexiglass prisoner cage, and he wasn’t moving.
I drew my gun again and moved up next to the car.
“Let me see your hands,” I said, using my cop voice.
He didn’t move.
“Hey, look at me.”
Still no reaction.
He was on the passenger side.  I was on the driver’s side.  With my gun up and ready, I went around the back of the car, inching closer to his door.
He had long, greasy black hair that fell over the sides of his face and I couldn’t tell if he was white or Hispanic.  All I could tell for sure was that he looked like something the Underwater Crime Scene Recovery Unit had pulled up from the bottom of the San Antonio River.
Right away I thought, Heroin junkie.
I tapped the window with the barrel of my Glock and said, “Hey guy, look at me.”
By that point my surprise and curiosity had given way to anger at being ignored, and I threw the car door open, stepped back, and pointed my gun at the backseat.
“Get your butt out of my car…” I started to say, but trailed off into silence, the rest of it lost.
The backseat was empty, and I was standing there talking to air.
It was the damnedest thing I’ve seen.  One minute he was right there, the next he was gone.  I didn’t see any movement, and there was no way he could have squeezed by me.  I was blocking the only way out of the car.
He was just gone.
I took another step back and looked around.  Then I knelt down and looked under the car.  Nothing there either.  There was nothing moving but the crickets in the empty field of tall grass off to my right.
I stood there, looking stupid and confused.
James Mason had nothing to say.
Gradually, I started to frown, and a thought formed in my head that maybe this was a practical joke.
“Yes, I think you’re right,” James Mason finally said, though he didn’t sound totally convinced.  “That makes sense.”
And it did, kind of.
Nobody in the world knows how to pull practical jokes like policemen, and the best of the best are the clowns who work the deep nights.  I started to think that what I had here was somebody messing with the new guy on the shift.  I looked around, half expecting to hear two or three of them snickering behind a bush, watching me.
Never get mad with a practical joker.  That’s the surest way to become the regular recipient of every silly prank your jokester can think of.  What you do is, you acknowledge the joke and laugh at yourself, which is what I did.  I holstered my weapon and waved one hand in the air.
“You got me,” I said.  “Good one, guys.”
I waited after that, but nobody jumped out and said, “Boo!”
I got back in my car and started it up.  As far as practical jokes went, I had to admit that it was better than baby powder in the AC vents, or putting a grass snake down the barrel of my shotgun, or somebody getting on my car’s computer when I wasn’t around and sending an all route message to every policeman in the city saying how proud I was to be coming out of the closet and that I hoped it wouldn’t be awkward for any of them to work with me now that I was openly gay.
This was certainly more original, anyway.
For a moment I thought of ways to retaliate, then decided against it and settled down to write the report.
A burglar alarm report is a one-liner.  Saw nothing, did same.
I quickly checked off the appropriate boxes on the front of the incident report and turned it over to write the details.
“52-40, you ready for that family disturbance yet?”
Oh crap.
I keyed up the mic and said, “10-4, Annabelle.  Sorry about that.  Go ahead and give it to me.”
Somebody whistled.
While Annabelle read off the details for my family disturbance call, I saw another police car round the corner at the end of the block, coming my way at top speed.  I acknowledged the call and rolled down the window, thinking I was about to meet my practical joker.
He pulled up next to me and rolled down his window.  I didn’t recognize him, but then, there was nothing unusual about that.  There are 2,500 patrolmen in the SAPD, and I had worked for a long time on daylight.  My first night on deep nights at the West Patrol Substation, I hardly recognized anybody.
This guy looked about my age, mid to late thirties, with a sandy brown mustache, closely trimmed brown hair, and a lean, almost gaunt face.  He had a Guns and Roses song playing on his car stereo and he was chewing tobacco.  I could see the edge of a tattoo poking out from under his shirt sleeve, and I thought, Ex-military, probably Air Force.
He glanced at my backseat, frowned, and then turned to me.  He said, “Did you get a call here?”
I could tell from his car number that he was from South Patrol, a long ways away.
“Yeah,” I said, and pointed with my chin at the house.  “A ringer over there.  I already checked it.  Nothing to it.”
“You checked it real good?”
“Yeah,” I said.  Under normal circumstances, a question like that would have offended me.  But there was a certain air of preoccupation in his voice that made him sound worried, and he probably wasn’t even aware he’d made an indictment of my competence.
Then I reminded myself that this was my practical joker, and it occurred to me that he had to be a pretty good actor to pull off that worried tone.  But no matter how good an actor he was, I was determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing how freaked out his joke had made me.  I decided to just play dumb, which, according to a certain psychopathic Hooters waitress who lived with me for three years, is standard operating procedure for me anyway.
But he didn’t follow up on the joke.  To my surprise, he relaxed noticeably.  His chest looked like a tire going flat.
It made me pause.
Sticking my neck out a little, I said, “Did they send you on this too?”
He looked back at the house, then at me.  “No.  I work South.  That’s my house.  I came because the alarm company called me.”
So he was from South.  I whistled at that.  Where I came from, up on North, if the sergeants caught you doing something like that, not just going out of your assigned sector, but halfway across the city, they’d chew your ass to chowder.  It didn’t look like it worried him though.  He was more preoccupied with his house than matters of procedure.
“I’m Steve Fisher,” I said.
“What?  Oh.”  A long pause.  He said, “Alan Parker,” and turned back to look at his house.
“I just got assigned this district.”
He was still looking at his house.  I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me, and maybe he didn’t, because when he turned back to me he said, “You checked it real good?”
“Everything’s secure,” I said.  “You want, we can go back over it again.”
He thought about that, then said, “No, that’s cool.”
I nodded.  He went back to studying the house and I went back to writing my one line report.
Out of nowhere he said, “My house got broken in to last month.”
“The guy broke out the window on this side of the house.  Made off with my stereo, my laptop, bunch of other stuff.  Luckily, I was working that night and I had my gear with me.  Can you imagine if he’d got my gun or my radio or my body armor?”  He shook his head.  “Now every time the alarm company calls, I come running.”
“I can see that,” I said.  I was trying to sound friendly, but the truth was I’d be scared to death to do what he was doing now, driving way across the city just to check my house.  You can do a lot of stupid stuff and still keep your job as a cop, but there is a line you don’t want to cross. 
He took one last look at his house and dropped his car in gear.  Before he left he asked, “Hey, you didn’t have anybody with you earlier, did you?”
I looked up from my report.  “What?”
“Before I pulled up?  I thought I saw somebody sitting in the back.”
I almost smiled.  So you are my joker.
I waited for him to land the joke, but he didn’t.  He said, “Probably just the reflection off the windshield.  Listen, I’m supposed to be making a minor accident way down on Reeves.  I just had to come by here first.  You cool, brother?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m cool.”
But as he drove off, I couldn’t help but sneak a peek in my rearview mirror.
Much later in the evening, after the calls died down and the radio grew quiet, I went to an all night taqueria, got a napkin, turned it sideways, and drew a line down the middle of it.  On the left I listed the reasons why what had happened to me had to be a prank.  On the right, the supernatural.  Silly, I know, but that’s the way my mind works.  I have to see things side by side like that in order for my mind to weigh them properly.  I did the same thing when I was trying to decide whether or not to break up with my psycho ex-girlfriend – mind blowing freaky sex with a girl who looks unbelievably hot in her Hooters outfit on the “keep her” side, everything else about her on the “dump her” side.  Great sex can only take you so far, after all.
On the prank side of this list, I came up with this.  First off, cops are born jokesters.  I’ve said that already, but it bears repeating.  It’s the natural way to cope with the stress of working in a bureaucracy run by morons.  For example, you go to a particularly nasty scene where a dead body’s been rotting inside an apartment with no air conditioning for a couple of weeks.  You got flies everywhere, and the body’s swollen and the skin split open and oozing in places and blackened in others from the bacteria and gases inside.  The smell is horrific.  If you’ve got a new guy with you, the first thing you do when you leave the scene is take him to the greasiest, nastiest restaurant you can find and watch him turn green over his food.
Yeah, good times.
The thing is most cop practical jokes are admittedly juvenile and simplistic.  What had happened to me lacked the usual silliness you get from cop jokes, and it was quite frankly much more elaborate than I would expect from even the best practical jokers.
The other half of that is that nobody but a cop can get in and out of the backseat of a locked police car.  The doors don’t open from the inside.  I arrested a car burglar one time, a little guy, about five-six, a hundred and thirty pounds, who kept begging me to open the window because he was roasting inside the backseat of my patrol car.  I’m a humane guy, so I did.  I cracked the window maybe six inches.  Next thing I know the guy has got his handcuffed hands in front of him and he’s crawling out the open window.  He hit the ground running and I had to chase that little piece of crap for two blocks before I caught up with him again.
But guys like that are the exception rather than the rule.  If the windows are up, and I’m blocking the open door, there shouldn’t be any way to get out.  Well, it can be done, but you have to know how.  We’re trained to get out of the backseat of a patrol car when we go through the Academy.  It’s supposed to be in case you’re overpowered by a prisoner and you’re locked inside your backseat, but truth be told, it comes in handy more often when you and your girlfriend happen to get locked in there while...well, you know.  More girls are into that kind of thing than you’d think.
But the thing was the guy I saw back there was definitely not a cop.  Like I said, I thought heroin junkie from the get go.  And besides, it takes a good forty-five seconds to get out of the backseat of a locked patrol car, even for a cop.
The guy I saw disappeared in the blink of an eye.
So I went to the other side of the napkin and listed the reasons for a supernatural explanation.  I could come up with only one, actually, but it was a mighty persuasive one.  I know what I felt on that little strip of grass by the air conditioner and the $79.95 window with the energy saver guarantee.  I felt somebody brush up against me.  And I know what I felt when I saw that empty backseat.  I know what I saw, too.  I was thoroughly freaked out, and when you get that way, you find yourself willing to entertain the idea of the supernatural, even if you think you don’t have a natural predisposition to lean that way.  And let me tell you this, the idea that the supernatural really happens, especially when it’s supported by an experience like mine, grows inside your head like weeds in your lawn.  You might be able to beat it down for a little while, but it keeps coming back.
Finally, I tossed the napkin in the trash and left the restaurant.  I didn’t completely realize it at the time, but my mind was pretty much made up about what I’d experienced at that point.
Later that morning, when I turned the car over to the daylight guy, I took a chance and asked him if he’d ever felt anything weird in the car.
“Like what?” he asked, and looked at me strangely.  “Something wrong with it?”
“No, no,” I said quickly.  “It drives fine.  I was just wondering.  Forget I mentioned it.”
The next night, at roll call, as the lieutenant called out our names and read the latest intelligence bulletins, I searched the faces of the other officers in the room.  There were maybe seventy-five of us in all in that room, but I didn’t see a trace of a knowing smile or hear any stray, smartass remarks.  Nothing to indicate that a joke had been played.
That’s the other thing about cops.  They gab and gossip like old women.  If someone had gone to the trouble to play that kind of joke on me, then they would have taken credit for it.
And so, I was left with the same nagging question:  practical joke or ghost.  I just didn’t know for sure.  Both sides of the issue seemed equally possible.
I was working traffic around an overturned vehicle when the answer came to me.  What I needed to do was approach the problem objectively, like a scientist, like those ghost hunters on the SyFy Channel.  What I needed to do was to go back to Alan Parker’s house and try to make it happen again.  That was the only way I could be sure of what I was dealing with.
I planned to retrace my steps exactly.  If I was dealing with a prankster, then he wouldn’t be around to work the joke a second time.  I could walk through the yard and nothing would happen.
On the other hand, if something else was going on...well, I’d be ready for that, too.  Maybe.
I went back to Alan Parker’s house, parked in the same place, and made my circuit around the house in exactly the same way as I had the night before, just like I planned.  When I got to the narrow strip of grass between the house and the fence, I took a deep breath, lit it up with my flashlight, and started up it.  I got all the way to the window, stopped, and waited.
Nothing but crickets singing.
James Mason said, “Now Steve, don’t you feel a little foolish?”
“Shut up,” I said.  “We’ll see who’s foolish in a second.”
And then I felt the bump.
A sort of giddy nausea overtook me, and I felt a little sick.  I stabbed my light in every direction, looking for whoever had touched me, but just like the night before, I was all alone.
I had planned up to that point.  As soon as the bump came, I was going to run out to the street and try to catch the guy from the night before as he was getting into my car.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.  I hadn’t counted on being scared out of my socks.  I figured that once I accepted the possibility that this was something supernatural I’d be prepared to deal with it.  But the truth was I wasn’t prepared.  Not even a little.
Eventually, I got my legs to move.  I staggered out to the street and saw somebody in the backseat of my patrol car, slumped over, head against the plexiglass, nasty, stringy hair like a curtain over his face.
I got to the car and stood there for a second, chest heaving, and said, “Who are you?”
He didn’t answer, didn’t look up.
I opened the door, the window caught the light from the street lamp above, and for a fraction of a second, all I could see was a starburst of reflected light.  In that moment, the man disappeared, and I was standing alone in the street, looking at an empty backseat.
More crickets singing.  A hot, damp breeze carried the smell of magnolia and cedar and dust into the street.  I stood there for a long time, holding the car door open, trying to make sense of what I was feeling.
The way I look at it, when you experience something of that magnitude, what you need to do is talk about it.  And it also seems to me there’s an order for who you turn to.  First off is family, I guess.  My dad, he’s retired Air Force.  He lives about thirty minutes north of San Antonio, only a phone call away.  But I couldn’t call him.  And not because he’s some sort of ex-military hard ass.  He’s nothing like that.  He might actually be the most dotting father alive, in fact.  My first year on Patrol, I used to have to call him every single afternoon when I got off work.  He always wanted to know everything I did, no matter how gory it was.  He didn’t mind.  But the thing was I just couldn’t picture myself having a conversation about this with him.  Dad would probably just say, “Well, that sure sounds like a pickle.  How about you come out here and stay with me for a few weeks?  Things might seem clearer to you if we get some country air in you.”
Yeah, there was no way I was going to have that conversation with him.
The next step down on the list is a friend.  Obviously I couldn’t call my psycho ex-girlfriend.  I don’t have a terribly active imagination, but I can sure imagine how she’d gloat over this.  She’d think, Oh yeah, he’s ruined without me.
And I hadn’t worked deep nights long enough to have any friends on my shift, so that idea was out too.
Third step would be the Department’s psychologist, and that definitely wasn’t going to happen.  I don’t care how important good mental health is, a man’s got to eat, and you can’t do that if you don’t have a job.  Crazy I can live with.  Hell, if I can live with a psychopathic Hooters girl I can live with anything.  That is, except for hunger.
“So,” James Mason said, “where does that leave you?  Whatever will you do?”
“I could call Annabelle,” I said.  “I spend most of the night talking to her anyway.  Why not just step back from this plan of mine and get a day’s worth of perspective on the problem?”
I envisioned how that would go.  Me, standing at the doorway of the 911 dispatch center, asking Annabelle to join me for coffee.  We’d talk for a while, then I’d tell her what this was all about, and the next thing you know, news of how crazy I am is all over the Department.
James Mason didn’t even have to speak.
What I decided to do was to get the one person I knew would come out with me.  I went back to the back of Alan Parker’s house and kicked his backdoor until I heard the alarm go off.
I wandered back out to the street, feeling like I was walking through a fog.  And I wasn’t surprised in the least to see the stringy haired heroin junkie sitting in my backseat, slumped over, head against the plexiglass.
I stood next to the door, looking at him through the window, and I was still staring at him when a police car pulled up on me, covering me with its headlights.
Alan Parker ran up to me.  “What’s going on?” he demanded.  “The alarm company called me again.”
I didn’t say a word.  I turned toward him slightly without really bothering to see him, and then back at the man in my backseat.
“Who’s that?” Alan said.
Still in a fog I said, “You see him too?”
“What?  Of course I see him.  Here, get out of the way.”
He pushed me to one side and opened the car door, but when he reached for the man in the backseat, his hands went right through him.
For the first time, the man in the backseat moved.  He lifted his head off the plexiglass and looked at Alan.  His face was crushed and battered on one side, the eyeball nothing but a blood-clotted pool of white jelly.
His expression was the most twisted, awful thing I’ve ever seen, somewhere between blind rage and a desperate plea for mercy.  He opened his mouth to speak, but it was Alan who screamed.
Alan stumbled out of the backseat and into the street.
Out of nowhere, I saw headlights.  I heard brakes squealing and tires screaming across the pavement.  I heard the dull thud of Alan Parker’s body colliding with the grill guard of an old pickup, and then Alan was sprawled out on the pavement, staring up at something only he could see, gulping air like a fish out of water.
The man who ran over Alan Parker was blindingly drunk, a roofer on his way home after a late night tailgate party.
The Traffic Investigations detectives came out and did a reconstruction of the accident scene, then booked the roofer for Intoxication Assault.
Alan hung on for four days in the hospital before he finally died of the head injury he took that night.  My shift sergeant called me into the office to give me the news.  I stared at my hands folded in my lap and nodded when he asked me if I was okay.
Then he told me Internal Affairs wanted to talk to me.
The next morning I was in the conference room at Internal Affairs, where a Police Association lawyer and three IA sergeants offered me a chair, donuts, and hot coffee.
After the introductions, they asked me about Alan Parker.
For the first time since he started talking to me, I heard James Mason use the phrase, “Oh shit.”
“What do you want to know?” I asked.  “I already told the Traffic guys everything I knew about the accident.”
“Not that,” they said.
They wanted to know if Alan had ever told me anything about a burglary at his house.
I told them he had.  I told them what Alan told me about the stereo and the laptop and the new window with the energy saver guarantee.
They looked at one another uncomfortably.
Finally, the lead sergeant spoke up.  “Officer Parker made a dying declaration at the hospital,” she said.  “In his confession, he admitted to leaving his assigned area in order to investigate a burglar alarm at his residence.”
I nodded, not certain where this was going.
“While he was there, he surprised a burglar trying to exit the house through that broken side window.  He then beat the man to death with his baton.  He said he didn’t mean to kill the man, but when he realized what he’d done, he put the body in his patrol car, and drove it down to Watson Road just south of the city limits where he dumped it in a field.”
My mouth fell open.
“That was my reaction too,” she said soberly.  “But it’s the truth.  Homicide found the body this morning.  It was very badly decomposed, but exactly where he said it would be.”  She looked to the others and they nodded.  She said, “What we need from you, Officer Fisher, is a written statement saying something to the effect that you had no knowledge of the incident with the burglar.  That way, we can close out our investigation and put all this unpleasantness behind us.”
I had my hands in my lap, and I’m glad for that.  I wonder what they would have said if they’d seen the way my hands were shaking.
It was all I could do to keep from throwing up.
“Officer Fisher?”
Vacantly, I said, “Sure,” and nodded.
“You’d be willing to make that statement?”
I took a deep breath, looked her right in the eye, and said, “Absolutely.  This is the first I’ve heard of it.”