Light: Bright Like A Soul Burning!

The ocean moved toward the shore as I moved toward the ocean – the Atlantic, and a city older than it’s country, yet still too country in many ways. I found a residence in Charleston, South Carolina and began to seek a job. I was lucky in more ways than I had hoped to be as I soon met an investor who wanted to open a dance club in an old behemoth of a building he owned, that mostly owned him instead. He imagined he would turn it into a popular spot for the fickle and frenetic Friday night revelers, and he needed someone to design and build a fantastic interior space. After being promised a budget I could feel comfortable with, I began to plan what Abraxas would become. I was ecstatic!

In order to know how to be original, I needed to see what other clubs and bars in the city had to offer, so I began to visit them one by one. A certain night I checked out a bar called enTRANCE, situated in a three story building that once must have been a factory or hotel, as large as it was. It housed a restaurant on the ground floor, a typical bar layout on the second, and a cavernous dance floor on the third. Not one to dismiss the perks allowed me while sizing up the competition, I had a marvelous free meal then proceeded to the bar for complementary drinks. I wasn’t wanting to get drunk though, as I needed to be observant and able to remember what I was seeing. The owner was there and he offered to answer whatever questions I might have, since he knew full well that a popular location would bring the tourists in and once there, they often hopped from bar to club to bar to restaurant to club and back again. He would see a sizable increase in traffic for his business if we were half the draw we hoped to be.

So I had a couple of drinks, talked about the patrons and their preferences and eventually excused myself to check out the dance area. I made my way up the stairs and entered a different space altogether than the bar area I had left behind. Here it was darker and more abandoned than I expected it to be. I was looking for lighting placements and the potential effects lights can have, working in succession, and if they complimented and enhanced the trance and ambient music playing there.

There were fewer patrons there than I had expected to see, perhaps twenty, and each of them seemed to be alone and self-satisfied, dancing drunkenly or hypnotically to the atmospheric sounds and surprisingly sparse lighting schemes. I walked to a back wall, leaned against it and watched, lost in the thoughts I was forming of my club-to-be and how it would make this place seem boring by comparison. I scanned the room and suddenly, as I was looking up for mirror balls, strobes and blinkers, a gradually-building-to-intense flash of light caught my attention. It wasn’t a large effect, being about the size of the moon when fully effected, but it was incredibly white, brilliant and complex. As I stared, this light seemed to pulsate and spin while moving in and out. It seemed as though it reached toward me and retreated, only to pulse and writhe again and again. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone. I looked for the apparatus that housed it yet could see nothing but the dark wall it should have been affixed to. I thought then that perhaps I had miscalculated it’s location and I made a mental note to ask the owner about it later. It was possible, too, that it was a retracting assembly that wouldn’t be visible until the DJ or light board operator flipped a switch. Dismissing an uneasy feeling, I finished my drink, gave my attention back to the music and returned to my mental musings of bars and clubs and exotic things that flash agreeably in the dark. I wanted music, lights and visible space to amplify each effect’s separate appeal at Abraxas. I wanted our patrons to have both an orgasm and a religious experience when they came there.

When I eventually returned to the bar level I remembered that I wanted to ask about the unique lighting effect I had seen and I sought out the owner to do so. I explained to him what I had observed and where, and waited for him to tell me how to locate his supplier. To my surprise he gave a shocked look and asked me to show him where I had seen it. I walked with him up the stairs and pointed to the space a little more than halfway up the wall and to the left of the DJ’s windowed booth where I had witnessed the effect. He assured me that no retractable effects were housed there and asked me to again explain what it had looked like. When I had finished attempting to completely describe it, he smiled ruefully and said:

“You aren’t the only one to have seen this light you describe. It has been observed a few other times that I know of and I can assure you it is nothing I had installed. I always hope to see it for myself but have not been so fortunate. I’ve been told it’s beautiful and somewhat unnerving at the same time.”

I told him it was a indeed a gorgeous effect but that I had been made somewhat uncomfortable by it, too. I thanked him for his time and conversation and left to check out a smaller bar, down a few doors, on the same street. 

That was four years ago and sadly, Abraxas never made it past the planning stage. Situated in one of the most crime-ridden areas of the city, the site would have cost more in security and outdoor lighting than it would have been worth. We couldn’t be sure patrons would be willing to allay their fears and venture into such a dangerous zone. Sad as it was for me; I had developed numerous technical drawings and ideas for effects and sets that, once they were realized, would have amazed anyone who saw them, I continue to work for the investor I met then.

Recently a college friend and her husband came to visit and I endeavored to think of things we could do and sites we could see to make their visit memorable. It was decided one thing we should do would be to take a ghost tour. After all, being in America’s most haunted city, it just seemed right.

Charleston reportedly has numerous ghosts and so no less than six Ghost Walks exist to facilitate touring the city’s many haunted sites. We chose one and met the host and other walkers at about 11:00 pm one cloudy, dark night at the starting place. We then set out to visit a dozen sites around the Historic Old Charleston area and listened as our guide explained each site’s claim to haunted fame.

We had been walking for about an hour when we stopped in an older section of town and our host directed our attention to a three story brick building approximately thirty yards away.

“The building you see there was, in the mid 1800’s, a mirror factory. It’s third floor, now enclosed by the large windows you see, was mostly open and giant fans situated in front of the openings helped to pull excess heat from the room. Large vats, which held either molten glass or molten silver nitrate bubbled hotly, eventually reaching temperatures of 3000 plus degrees. Silver nitrate was used to coat formed panes of glass, thus giving the glass a reflective property.”

“It was during such a period of vat preparation that a nineteen-year-old employee had been instructed to adjust certain vents in the ceiling of the structure so that excessively gathered heat could escape the structure. Sliding along a platformed track assembly bolted to the ceiling, he approached levered vent panels and began to adjust their positions to allow larger openings for heat to dissipate. Somehow, at some point, the young man lost his safe position on the platform and fell, managing as he toppled to grab onto the edge of the platform. He hung there screaming while workers below scrambled to rescue him.”

“It just so happened that he had toppled off directly over the churning, roiling vat of liquid silver nitrate. While he hung, those witnessing the event excitedly labored to position a rolling ladder into place to retrieve him. He hung for as long as he could manage, but fatigue and gravity eventually overcame him and he plunged screaming into the dreaded vat before he could be rescued.”

“Some recalled that once he hit the surface of the liquid, the moisture in his body caused an explosion of steam and the liquid silver in the vat boiled over the sides and splattered,  causing those standing nearby to be burned by airborne molten silver and rolling steam. A brief intense flash of light was observed as his flesh quickly boiled away and those who witnessed it said it was an all-consuming light: bright like a soul burning. The heat, they believed, had been intense enough to catch his very soul on fire!”

As our host spoke these last words of the legend, my eyes traveled to the structure and to the mammoth and dark windows of the third floor. Suddenly a bright, cascading light erupted from behind the black surface and reached toward me. One drawn out acute flash, then nothing, then, just as suddenly, another more intense build of eldritch light and then nothing again. The window was now dark. This sighting was familiar!

“Did anyone else see that?” I asked the entire group.

My friend’s husband admitted that he had. “What was it?” he wondered aloud.

No one else attested to seeing anything out of the ordinary so Mike and I began to describe to our host, and to those assembled, what we had seen.

“Well, I don’t know what it was” our host admitted,  “I do know, though, that the building is empty. A few years ago a club called enTRANCE was situated there but it closed down about three years ago and the building has remained empty since.”

I suddenly didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t recognized the building as the club I had visited several years before, never having seen the building from this distance. When I saw it before, it was from much closer up and from the front.

I still understand little of what I saw on those two occasions, but I know now that I’m not the only one to have seen this strange light: bright like a soul burning.

I’d like to try an experiment…

…and I need your help. I’ve mentioned before that I wanted to get back into writing more short stories as practice for eventually getting around to writing something approximating a novel—I even started a category on the blog to hold my attempts at fiction—but so far I’ve been hard pressed to come up with story ideas to write about. So here’s what I’d like you guys to do as a bit of fun: Challenge me with a story idea.

Pick a situation, topic, concept, scene, or what have you that you think might make for an interesting short story and either leave it in the comments or email it to me and I’ll try to write a short story about it. Maybe it’ll be a couple of pages or maybe it’ll be a couple of sentences. Either way it’ll help me to flex my creative muscles and give us some content for a poorly under-used category here on SEB. What do you think? Sound like fun?

I have an idea…

…for another bit of fiction of the short story variety that is inspired by the upcoming holidays. If I can massage it into something coherent I’ll post it up.

NaNoWriMo has begun.

This year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is underway, but yours truly won’t be participating. I’ve made enough attempts at writing novels on my own to know that this challenge is still beyond me. Short stories I can do when the muse strikes me upside the head, but a full-length novel is still beyond my reach.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not keeping my mind open to the possibility. I often will sit and try to think of novel-length ideas and once I nail one down I’ll see what I can do to actually develop it, but I won’t be setting any deadlines anytime soon until I start getting better ideas.

Still, good luck to those of you who are participating and I look forward to reading your works when you are done.

Boo.

Susan sat bolt upright in her bed, her ears prickling against the muffled silence of the dark house. She thought she had heard… something. Her eyes darted about the room straining in the faint light from her LED alarm clock to make out shapes as her brain tried to identify what sound had jarred her from her slumber and set her heart to racing. She glanced at the clock to see what time it was. The display showed 12:01 AM in bright green letters that seem to sear the darkness.

Was it a creak from the old house settling further upon its time worn foundation? That wouldn’t be unusual; the house was a beautiful Victorian colonial built in 1858 that had fallen into disrepair after several years of being unoccupied. Susan and her husband had bought the home some nine months ago and had been working hard on renovating it. When they first moved in they had to adjust to all manner of creaks and whistles during the night though the amount of noise the house produced had diminished as the renovation proceeded. She’d been awakened by these sounds on more than one night, but never with fear clutching at her heart like this. Susan wished her husband was with her now. Ron was away on a business trip and wasn’t due back for another four days.

Susan concentrated on getting her heart to slow down as a trickle of sweat ran down the side of her face. She reached up to brush it away with only a brief recognition of how odd it was that she should be sweating when the room itself felt so cold. It was getting on to the end of October and the chill of winter was already permeating the autumn nights forcing her to don her flannel pajamas earlier than usual. Susan considered the possibility that it was the sound of the old gas-fired boiler in the basement starting up that she had heard in her sleep. This behemoth of an ancient heating system squatted in the center of the stone basement like some bloated metal spider on its back, its black iron legs stretching up into the exposed beams of the ceiling above as if clinging to it. A window on the front lit up the basement with a wicked yellow and orange glow every time it sputtered into life and the half-growling half-gurgling sounds it produced when in operation were the stuff that children’s nightmares are made of. It didn’t help that the stone basement was just creepy in its own right in the way that all stone basements seem to be and the presence of this antiquated method for heating the house didn’t help to make things any cheerier. They had plans to replace it with a more modern and efficient furnace, but that expense would have to wait until after the winter. She was used to that noise by now as well, though, so she ruled it out as the cause of her distress.

By now Susan had just about managed to convince herself that maybe she hadn’t actually heard anything at all. This was her first time being home alone in the house since they moved in and she’d been having some restless dreams as of late so perhaps, she thought, what woke her up was a product of one of her dreams.  She started to chuckle to herself in the darkness about how silly she was being when she heard it again.

This time there was no mistaking the sound and it sent shivers down Susan’s spine while icy fingers of fear clutched at her stomach. It was a cat crying out in fear somewhere in the darkness of the main floor of the house. Susan recognized this cry because she had heard it before from her own cat, Cosmo, whenever he got himself locked in a closet. In fact, this cry had sounded just like Cosmo’s, but that couldn’t be as Cosmo had died just over a month ago. The cry resounded from the bowels of the house again, the plaintive wail of a frightened and confused feline desperate for someone to come to its rescue. It tore at Susan’s heart which was beating against her ribcage once again as she realized the sound had come from a different location than the first, still on the main floor, but somewhat closer. She didn’t know what to do as she struggled with competing emotions of fear over what she knew couldn’t be and the need to find and aid what sounded like her pet in distress.

There was a thud and a watery crash followed by the sound of scrabbling claws on a hardwood floor that was closer still. Susan thought of the vase on the small table near the foot of the stairway leading to the second floor. She realized that whether it was her cat or not, it was headed her way. Trying to contain her rising feeling of panic, she reached over to the nightstand to turn on the light as a low-guttural growl echoed around the stairway. No longer did this sound like a scared animal, but an angry one. Susan could feel the temperature in the room dropping quickly and she gathered her comforter closer around her as she strained to hear what was going on out in the hallway.

She heard nothing for several minutes. No howls, no soft padding of paws on the hardwood floor, not so much as a breath including her own as she realized she had been holding it for the past few moments. She allowed herself to start breathing again with an audible sigh that briefly hung in the air as a fog due to the chill in the room. She listened intently fighting against the deafening silence for some clue as to what was happening beyond her bedroom door. Another five minutes passed according to the alarm clock without so much as a peep from whatever it was that had been making the racket in her home.

The continuing silence was starting to gnaw at Susan’s nerves. Was there something out there in the house or had this all been a waking dream? She believed she had gotten through the grieving process for her pet, but perhaps it had affected her more deeply than she thought. Could she really be just imagining all of this as a reaction to some hidden feelings of guilt? “Only one way to find out,” she thought to herself and steeling her resolve she climbed out of bed and started to move slowly towards the door. It was all of six feet from the bed, but she crossed the distance as slowly and cautiously as though the path were strewn with broken glass all the while staring at the door and listening for any sounds of movement on the other side.

In her frightened state the journey seemed to take hours and when she finally arrived at the door she was somewhat relieved at the complete and utter silence which greeted her. She forced herself to relax a little and reached for the door handle. She grasped the cool brass knob and began to twist the latch when suddenly the air erupted in a violent crescendo of sound and fury as something on the other side began beating against the door and wailing like a cat in the middle of a fight for its life. Susan screamed and leapt back from the door as it shuddered in its frame with each impact, the sound of claws ripping at the wood competing with the hissing and growling of something trying to tear it from its hinges. The volume level rose with the intensity of the attack and a crack appeared in the wood near the bottom of the door as Susan sprinted for the nightstand next to the bed. Grabbing a handle she yanked open a drawer in the stand revealing the revolver her husband had bought in spite of her protests. The sound of wood splintering rang out behind her as she snatched the gun from the drawer and turned to face the door. Whatever was trying to get in appeared to be focusing on the bottom of the door so that’s where she aimed, pausing only for a moment to try and steady her shaking hands. Five shots rang out as she emptied the gun into the door, the sound splitting through the air like thunder and setting her ears ringing. Something behind the door let out a yowl of pain and anger followed by a massive thud as though it had fallen over and the attack on the door abruptly ended.

Susan whipped back around to the night stand and frantically dug through the clutter in the drawer for the package of bullets she knew to be in there. She tore open the box and tried to reload the pistol as quickly as she could in her panic, dropping several bullets onto the floor as she struggled with the gun. Armed once again she turned and aimed at the door, listening for any signs of movement from the other side. Again there was nothing to hear outside of Susan’s own panicked breathing. The bottom of the door was in sad shape with holes from three of the bullets and several cracks stretching midway up its length. Swallowing her fear, Susan again crossed the room to the door holding the gun out in front of her all the while tensed in anticipation of a renewed attack. With a trembling hand she reached out and took hold of the door handle and paused. Nothing. With a deep breath she started to twist the knob slowly until an audible click resounded around the room like a rifle shot, but she still couldn’t hear anything moving on the other side. Counting to three Susan tore the door open with a scream of frustration and fear as she waved the pistol around trying to find something to aim it at. The light from the bedroom spilled into the hallway and failed to reveal anything that wasn’t there normally aside from three fresh bullet holes in the hardwood floor and Susan’s own shadow stretching up the wall opposite her.

Susan stood there shaking in the doorway with tears welling up in her eyes as she looked up and down the empty hallway for anything that might explain what she had just gone through. She choked back a sob and wiped her sweaty brow with her pajama sleeve as her mind raced trying to make sense of it all. She turned to head back into her room when she caught sight of the bottom half of the door. Fear started to rise up her spine again as she knelt down to examine the multitude of ragged claw marks that had all but stripped the finish completely away leaving bare wood full of deep gouges. She reached out a trembling hand to run her fingers down the grooves to prove to herself she wasn’t dreaming.

Suddenly, a crash in the room, the light winked out, claws scrabbling on wood and an angry yowl racing towards her from the bed…