Friday, April 6, 2018

Speaking of Chicago...

In my previous entry about my story, "Willow Bend," I delved into the importance of setting and how a specific location—Rock Castle Gorge in Virginia—played a major part in the tale. However, the real genesis of the story may be traced back to an incident that occurred 30-some years ago and 700-some miles away, in a very different setting—Chicago—where I lived in the mid-1980s.

At that time, I was an avid Paintball player, the game being known in those days as "Survival." I was part of a group that got together every weekend in the woods near the Wisconsin border, and I was as addicted to Paintball then as I am to Geocaching today. It was beyond fun shooting the hell out of each other (though it hurt like like a motherfucker when you got hit), and certain experiences from the game naturally wove their way into a number of my stories over the years. The event in question, however, involved not the game itself but one of my fellow players. I'm pretty sure his name was Kurt, and for the purposes of this narrative, that is what I shall call him.

Kurt and I got to be pretty good friends, and as experienced players, we took considerable delight in teaming up each weekend to take out craploads of newbies who came to sample the Survival experience. He was a hardcore Paintballer, and he owned several of the CO2-powered guns we used in the game. He offered one of them to me at a bargain-basement price, and I was happy to take him up on the deal. It was kind of nice having a gun of my own rather than renting one every weekend.

One day he came to me with uncharacteristic solemnity and asked whether I might be willing to do him an unusual favor. Apparently, Kurt lived next door to an aging woman who was convinced that people were coming into her house at night and making a lot of racket. Oddly, when she would get out of bed to accost them, there was never anyone there. This happened every Friday night, and one weekend she asked Kurt if he might be so kind as to stand watch outside and have cross words with any strangers inclined to enter her house uninvited. She did suggest that, since there was no knowing these people's intentions, it was only prudent that he should arm himself. Well, the only arms Kurt owned were Paintball guns, so figuring... I guess... that two Paintball guns might at least partially compensate for their basic lack of lethality, he asked me if I'd be willing to join him standing vigil overnight at the nice lady's place.

Well, ever one to rise to a stimulating challenge, of course I said yes. Hell, neither of us believed a word of it, for the lady was old and probably firmly in the clutches of dementia, and this struck both of us as an opportunity to stay up all night, drink beer, shoot the shit, and maybe shoot somebody's eye out with paintballs should the need actually arise.

The lady lived in a small Chicago brownstone in a reasonably well-to-do neighborhood. On either side of the house, there were tall, thick evergreens that separated the adjacent lots, so shortly after sunset on this chilly evening, Kurt and I armed ourselves with our Paintball guns, a shitload of paintballs, a twelve-pack or two of Old Style, some munchies, and a few packs of cigarettes, and we settled ourselves across from each other in the shelter of the tent-like evergreen branches.

For lord knows how long, we drank, smoked, and jabbered back and forth, until the lady popped her head out the door and told us to shut the hell up because she really wanted to see the situation resolved, and our cavalier attitudes were of no help. This was sound logic as far as it went, so we got serious, clammed up, and went on full alert. This state of alertness lasted until sometime around two in the morning, when I began to get really, really sleepy.

The next thing I knew, Kurt was shaking me and saying he could hear voices coming from inside. We both crept to a window and, sure enough, there were low, masculine voices emanating from what I believed to be the living room. A second later, the woman began to holler from another room, and the voices went silent. Kurt produced a key, and we rushed inside with our Paintball guns ready to blast the hell out of any intruders. What we found was a bewildered, frustrated-looking lady and... not one other soul in the house. No TV or radio turned on. No indication that anyone other than the woman was, or had been, inside.

And that was that. Our hostess told us that, inevitably, once the people went away, they didn't come back anymore on the same night. Disheartened, Kurt and I returned to our posts, where we spent a few more uneventful hours until daybreak. When we finally parted ways, we half-heartedly assured each other it might be worth trying the same plan on some other night, but we never did. Frankly, despite things having been a little weird, we did not believe anyone besides the lady had ever been in that house. She probably had turned on the television, or voices coming from somewhere else simply sounded as if they were coming from within. After all, at any given time, we were surrounded by a fair amount of city noise....

Some weeks or months later, Kurt told me that the woman had had no more complaints about intruders, so we did take some satisfaction in the idea that... maybe... our Paintball guns had scared the dickens out of some ghostly ghosts and sent them permanently packing. I felt happy, for the night had proven interesting enough, and thirty-some years later, it became the basis for one of my scary stories.

And that was the Night We Shot a Ghost's Eye Out.

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