Ghostly Summons excerpt

A Lars Kelsen Spectral Thriller

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.”

— Occam’s razor

I WAS sick—sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me.

— “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Edgar Allan Poe


Tremors as the A-10 Thunderbolt II roared past. Earl Griggs squinted against the rising sun as the Warthog shrunk to a gleaming toy over the tree tops. He didn’t need the radar to show the close support aircraft killing it over the waters of the Pamlico and Croatan Sounds. All pilots are speed demons, even if they’re not in the fastest jet ever made. ZipD, moniker of the fly-boy inside this war bird, would straddle a lightning bolt if he could time it right. Wasn’t unusual for him to peel paint from the aircraft’s nose well beyond the island chain of the Outer Banks—dubbed Graveyard of the Atlantic from all the shipwrecks since the year 1526—turn and burn over the mainland in mere minutes. Similar trip via Route 264 took two hours.

Griggs half-smiled as he flipped the thin microphone arm beneath his chin and took a sip of coffee. Man, if he had it to do over again…and wasn’t color blind to certain shades of red and green. Bombs were about to drop from the sky.

Bonus: Today they’d actually explode.

Griggs hummed and thumb-tapped his thigh, keys jingling merrily in his shorts pocket. Yeah, live bombs can make life interesting.

Pseudo-bombs most other days. Target practice on 46,000 acres of steamy North Carolina coastal forest and marsh. Today was still practice, but the bombs were the real deal, and while he’d overseen many such live drops, the danger factor had notched up. As had his excitement.

Inside the control tower, Griggs trained his binoculars and watched the Warthog approach. Similar images of the fighter-bomber played at different camera angles on the oversized computer monitor at the central desk, including real-time images from the high-powered camera mounted on the plane’s undercarriage, dubbed the “belly cam” by Griggs’s predecessor long ago. Each window in the group was recorded, both here and at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, where the famous Flying Tiger Squadron relocated after years at Pope AFB in Fayetteville, NC. Griggs preferred the binocs so he could see the bombing run play out in his own perspective. Twelve years and he never tired of this.

A silver tank with red fins detached from the underbelly. Normal enough—but early. Way too early.

The pilot swore in Griggs’s earpiece.

Coffee sloshed and spilled as cup met desk. Griggs grabbed for the joystick of the revolving camera, highest on the tower, missed and grabbed again, this time succeeding. He trained it on the bomb as it plunged on its premature path.

Heart thumping against his ribs, Griggs swallowed and glanced at the radar panel. Yellow dashes marked the bomb’s descent. A click and drag of the mouse shifted the superimposed map of the mock Iraqi town eastward, toward Stumpy Point Bay and a slice of the Pamlico Sound to the far right. No houses in this area, but the people at the small businesses around Stumpy Bay were now at risk, along with any fisherman and perhaps small game hunters, all-terrain vehicle riders, and motorists on the scenic byway.

He ignored the statistics in the side panel and zeroed in on the projected destination, highlighted in red blinking dashes. A gust of air as he let out the breath he’d been holding. 

The bomb would hit the outskirts of the range, west of the bay and Route 264 by about five miles. Thankfully, no one from his crew was there.

The control tower camera was inadequate for the trees and distance involved, so he maximized the pilot’s “belly cam” feed.

Griggs prayed nobody was wandering around or riding all-terrain vehicles out there. He didn’t want a tragedy, nor did he want the pilot to get in trouble. As a veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield before easing into the Air Force Reserve, ZipD, or Captain Darius Williams, wouldn’t get much of an ass chewing for this incident unless someone got hurt. Could be equipment malfunction. Or maybe his thumb slipped.

Back Lake rushed up as the pilot circled and zoomed his video camera.

The monitor carried no sound, but Griggs saw the hit and knew the explosion would have emptied the bladder of anyone a mile away. A geyser of water and smoke and debris erupted near the small lake’s south-western shore. Rotting sticks, lily pads with white blooms, sand, muck, turtles and fish blew outward with the watery blast. A man-made tsunami rose and scoured the shallows and shoreline.

A large object heaved upward on the wave.

It spun haphazardly and tumbled, draped in lily pads and dead branches. The wave carried it to shore, where it vanished in the perpetual green of swamp vegetation.

Griggs leaned hard on the desk, working the mouse. He froze the recording, reversed, then clicked to zoom in on the target area. His gut knotted.

“ZipD, did you visual?”

“Affirmative, Ground. Hit a pocket of turbulence just as my thumb flipped the guard on the button. Premature drop. Struck that lake. Wildlife rode the after-wave. Sizeable. Dead deer or maybe a bear?”

Griggs squinted. Strands of blond hair waved listlessly from a twisted branch of driftwood. The ex-combat veteran’s stomach recoiled as he reached for the alarm to scramble the ground crew. “Abort and return to base, pilot. Inform superiors the bombing range is code black. Repeat, range is now closed to operations until further notice. Lord, we got a human body out there.”

On the civilian phone he punched 911 for the Dare County Sheriff’s office.


Unsettling, the images his mind had chosen to conjure.

Not photographic; not two-dimensional. More like 3-D. Damn close to seeing a live person, only not quite in the flesh.

After the first few moments, they would not be confused with those who still drew breath. No, his mental manifestations arrived in a more surreal manner than a living person. Stillness for one; these images were static. Victims appeared as they were the moment before life departed, often with visual cues as to the cause of death—which could make them even more difficult to face.

Frozen at Death’s door.

Upright. Sitting or standing as if they still lived. Watching. Staring in one direction. At one guy.

Lars Kelsen.

Lucky devil.

Ten years of such visits lay in the not-so-distant past. During that decade, he couldn’t shrink them away with counseling or medication. Or booze. Instead he coped—sort of. Learned to deal with them. Used them to get his job done; as impetus to hunt down information on crimes for news and features stories.

Several times his efforts helped the Charlotte police capture a killer.

With the suspect or suspects in custody—or dead—the images, these visits from “beyond the grave” ceased. His mind let go. Until the next injected itself into an otherwise mundane setting.

Convenient, this mental flaw. Eventually he came to grips with it. His slice of insanity was both functional and timely in that it repeated itself with the next unresolved murder case.

Kelsen labeled them Visitors, with a capital “V.” Upright bodies projected at the moment before final heartbeat. Ill-gotten death. Victims. Always watching—even if they had no eyes. Such had been the case with one of the victims of the Charlotte Car Bomber, a psycho who believed in documenting his insanity with a video camera. Cloaked in anonymity, CCB posted clips of his signature horror on YouTube. They were soon removed from the site, but only after a few thousand hits. The bomber adeptly masked his electronic footprints.

CCB abducted a college student and slashed her eyes. He duct-taped her arms to the steering wheel and remotely triggered the bomb planted in her lap. Her body disintegrated. She appeared to Kelsen as she had been in the final seconds of life…blood streaming down her face and mouth twisted in a silent scream.

Without question her random visits smashed a tank-sized hole in the walls of his investigative limits and kept plowing forward.

Motivating. Very.

Kelsen hardly slept for months. Dead ends abounded. Finally a forensic friend clued him to the bomber’s penchant for a brand of duct tape manufactured only in Arkansas called Razorback Duck. The cops found no official distributer or retailer in the Charlotte region. After a lot of legwork, Kelsen discovered five rolls stacked like a miniature missile silo on the shelves of a local truck stop on the outskirts of the city. The manager had accepted a case of the tape from a driver in exchange for access to the showers in the back of the place. Hours of surveillance DVD’s put a face to a repeat customer, but he only paid with cash and parked out of camera range so tracking was impossible. Days later, a call from a clerk in the middle of the night; the suspect had arrived again. Kelsen instructed the clerk to get the license plate without appearing obvious. He did. Kelsen hired a computer hacker to dig for more, starting with a home address.

The suspect was a professor at Davidson College. The duct tape should have been enough for a search warrant, but the dumbass judge employed what Charles Krauthammer referred to as “judicial creativity,” and wasn’t satisfied.

So Kelsen proceeded to trespass.

Breaking and entering a bomber’s lair ranked right up there with tap dancing on a mine field, and he’d sweated .44 caliber magnum slugs the entire time. Thanks to the temporary power outage—compliments of a sympathetic power contractor—electronic alarms and cameras weren’t as much a threat as the booby traps. The wiring and plastic explosives found in the basement justified rubbing a pack of the latter on the inside of a shopping bag to produce a signature residue. Kelsen threw a wire in for good measure. He told his forensic friend where the bag could be found, and waited.

Illegal on a couple of levels, of course.

The judge was dubious but couldn’t argue since the bag was found on a curb near the suspect’s house. Probable cause. The search warrant for professor CCB resulted in his arrest and subsequent death sentence.

The bomber’s last victim didn’t appear after that. Kelsen got some rest. Until two weeks later when the next one arrived.

They—Kelsen’s Visitors—did not react to a sudden sound or passing stranger. They did not move at all, that he could tell. Instead they repositioned. Showed up somewhere else like they’d been there all along.

Anytime. Anywhere.

Ghostly Summons

A Lars Kelsen Spectral Thriller

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *