20 March 2012

Jenny's Ghost

by David Dean

Last week, I went to one my editors pleading brain-freeze on the subject of my next post.  Actually, I did this in the figurative sense, in that I called my daughter, Bridgid, and asked for her advice.  It should be noted that Bridgid is intolerant of foolishness and dithering in general, and my lame pleadings and excuses in particular.  She is what is sometimes known as a harsh task-mistress.  She also has a very heavy hand when it comes to editing my stories even though I am her natural father and deserve better.  But, I dither.

"Write about how you write," she demanded.  "That's what people are interested in--they want to know how writers come up with their ideas and how they put them to paper!"

She stopped short of adding, "Duh!"

"Yeah, but..." I began; anxious not to be chastised further, "I've kinda done that in a few previous blogs...you know, talked about animals and nature and things..."

The sigh on the other end of the connection was long and heartfelt.  "You've got some stories coming out this year, right?"

"Yeah..."

"Well, there you go then--just write about how you came up with the plots, characters, etc...I enjoy reading Neil Gaiman's intros and essays on his stories almost as much as the stories themselves."

"I forbid you to invoke that name in my presence," I commanded.  "You know he's one of my competitors for the Edgar Award in April!  I won't have it!"

"He's terrific," she agreed.  "I wish I could go with you and mom to meet him."

"We're not going there to meet him!  There will be no fraternizing with..."

"Gotta go, dad, Robbie's home and we're going out to dinner.  Love you; love mom."

The connection went dead.  My only question at this point was, 'Why did I have children?'

The following day, however, the blank screen loomed ever more largely.  'Okay,' I muttered.  'Alright then!  If that's what she wants, then that's what she'll get!' 

Jenny's Ghost:  This story is scheduled for the June issue (the next out) of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, both a publication, and editor (the wonderful Janet Hutchings) with whom I have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship.  It's not a long story, as my stories go, and has all of its action contained within a major American airport modeled after Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International (except for a brief flashback to the main character's college days).  Why there?  Simple answer: I've spent weeks of my life in this place.  When you live in New Jersey, but have family in Georgia, it's where you must go...over...and over...and over....  You get the picture.  I've been to a lot of airports in my life; everywhere from JFK to Amsterdam; Dublin to Frankfurt, and nowhere have I been in a busier airport than Atlanta's.  It's a city unto itself, and not a small one in either size or population.  It even has it's own subway system.  Not a place for ghosts you would think.  But when you spend a lot of time waiting for planes it's easy to get melancholy; especially if both ends of the journey entail leaving people that you love behind, as in my case.  So, as I have sat so many, many times in this teeming, heaving micropolis, thoughts of remorse and sadness have sometimes pervaded my thoughts.  Generally, I am a pretty optimistic and cheerful person...but not always and in all circumstances.  The airport seems to be one of these.

During one of these enforced meditations awaiting a return flight to Philadelphia, I wondered what it might be like to meet the ghost of someone once held dear in such an unlikely place.  The idea would not go away and kept returning to mind for several years after it's inception.  I was getting haunted by it and so had to consider exorcism in the form of a story. 

Haitian Voodoo culture, amongst many others, has always considered crossroads a place to avoid after darkness, as wraiths and apparitions haunt them.  They believe crossroads can form an intersection between the living world and that of the dead.  Well, what is an airport other than a great big crossroad comprised of many dimensions?  So, maybe not such a bad setting after all?

I also had to consider why my protagonist ( I had decided upon a young family man in his early thirties awaiting a plane for home) would experience this unlikely phenomenon...and how?  After all, I didn't think a ghost story, as such, would sell to EQMM.  So, I came up with a different sort of ghost.  I know that sounds like a teaser, but I don't want to give the plot away.

It appears that much of the lore concerning ghosts and hauntings regard suicide and murder as the premier causatives.  Violent death begets unquiet spirits.  I would add that violence in general instills a disquiet in the living, as well.  Remorse and regret play a big role, too.  How many of us wince when we recall something from our past that we wish we could take back, un-do, or conversely, have acted to prevent, but didn't?  I suspect there's no one reading this who hasn't longed for a chance to remedy something that they regret not doing, or repent for having done--sociopaths, perhaps...but they stopped reading several paragraphs ago.

It's no different for me--Catholics have always had the sacrament of confession in order to obtain forgiveness for their sins, but this does not always serve to erase a thing from one's mind.  Knowing that one is forgiven by God, sadly, does not lead to selective amnesia.  The human conscience can be a bleak and frozen landscape, and it is in just such a place that we find my protagonist, Connor, at the opening of the story.  He hears a young woman's laughter ring out above the tumult of the crowded airport concourse...a laughter that he recognizes and loves; but a laughter that cannot possibly be real...and therein lies the tale.

I hope you enjoy it. 


8 comments:

Janice said...

Airports are a true horror venue!
Congratulations on your story.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I'm impressed you've spent enough time in the Atlanta airport to sit down and have feelings. I was there en route between NYC and Birmingham, AL to attend Murder in the Magic City, and I spent the whole time trotting up and down its vast corridors after Larry Light and Meredith Anthony like Mary's little lamb, hoping we would somehow find the right gate and wouldn't miss our connecting flight.

John Floyd said...

Bridgid was right, David--I think everybody likes to hear writers talk about how they came up with their story ideas. I enjoyed this!

The Atlanta airport is indeed a world of its own. When you live in Mississippi, you go through Atlanta to get ANYwhere.

By the way, congrats on the upcoming story!--I look forward to reading it.

Dale Andrews said...

Douglas Adams wrote in one of the Hitchhiker books that throughout the literature of the universe one will never encounter the phrase "as beautiful as an airport."

Congrats on the June story, David, and good luck at the Edgars.

Herschel Cozine said...

An airport as a setting for a horror story? That's redundant.
Good luck with the Edgar.

R.T. Lawton said...

David, having scrounged high and low and a few other places for my own story ideas, I'm always interested in where and how other writers find the seeds for their stories.
Also, I see your "Tomorrow's Dead" came in 6th and your "Tap-Tap" came in 9th for EQMM's 2011 Readers Award. Good going.

David Dean said...

Thanks for both the congrats and the kind wishes everyone. They are much appreciated!

You are dead-on, Janice and Herschel. I approach the modern airport in much the same manner as I imagine ancient travelers approached Babylon or Byzantium...with awe and dread. But in the spirit of full-disclosure, "Jenny's Ghost" is not a horror story (at least in the literal sense) but more of a...hell, I don't know what it is exactly...I just write these things and hope for the best.

Jeff Baker said...

There are all kinds of "ghosts," not all of them supernatural. I'd never thought of an airport as a crossroads before! Thanks for the intro, hope to read the story soon!