Tuesday, July 6, 2021

BAKED 7: GHOST TOWN

 




Van Stein shakes his head.  “We still have to do the ghosts.”

“I was afraid you were going to remember that.”  


During our pre-trek research, we'd discovered that Bakersfield has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in America.  


“We already saw ghosts,” I add.


“Those were devils, not ghosts.”


“Same friggin' thing!”


“Nope.”  Van Stein is steadfast.  “Big difference.”


The light finally turns green.


“Okay, Mister Ghostbuster, let’s do it your way.”


Van Stein consults his paperwork.  “Well, we might as well do Garces Circle.  It’s coming up, right past the no muff too tough place.  Holy shit, look!  The statue is saying a prayer!"


“Huh?  What?”  I look up and don’t notice that the driver of the car in front has abruptly hit his brakes, probably because he is from Oildale and under the influence of many influences.  “What the hell?”  I screech my own brakes, within an inch of slamming into him.


“Ya see?” says Van Stein.  “That was Garces warning us.”


“Or distracting us,” I say.  “Sonofabitch!”


“Garces?”


“No, the idiot in front of us!”


“We have enough to deal with,” says Van Stein.  “Don’t go road rage on me.  Look at the bright side—we found our first ghost.  Let’s move onto Ghost Two.”


“Ghost Two?  How many do you expect to see in this godforsaken dump?”

“A lot.”  Van Stein studies his map.  “We need to go back near the Padre.”



“How near.”

“Just park there.  We’ll walk.”


I ease into a space opposite the hotel and climb out.  


We’ve been in Bakersfield not quite ten hours and it feels like ten days.  



In fact, it feels like we’ll never get out, like that Twilight Zone episode about a couple who can’t leave a town no matter how hard they try.

“Now what?” I say.


“The old Woolworth building.”


“But we did that already.”


“Not at night.”


“What happens at night?”


“A ghost named Arnold.”


“What does he do?”


“Changes the displays.  During World War II, the basement was a bomb shelter.  Arnold supposedly connects to that.”


We trudge the dark deserted streets and approach the old nickel and dime.


Van Stein unleashes his camera.  “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”


Suddenly, a wild beast charges from inside...




...and disappears as it reaches the window before our eyes.

“Holy shit!” I holler.  “What was that—a warthog?”

“Looked more like a wild boar.”


“A wild boar ghost?”


“Hey, who says ghosts are only human.”


“That wasn’t a ghost,” I say.  “This is folie a deux.  A joint delusion.”


“Then we need to keep going,” snaps Van Stein, “and see where the delusion takes us.”


“It got us to Bakersfield,” I say.  “Isn’t that bad enough?”


“What are you saying,” spits Van Stein, “that we were suffering folie a what’s-it even before Bakersfield?”


“That’s what I’m saying.  It drove us here.  You think going to Gheel in search of St. Dymphna’s relics is sane?  I mean, who goes to places like that, for reasons like that, for chrissakes?”


This stumps Van Stein.  “But what if we see a real ghost, nothing to do with folie whatever?”


“If we see it together, it’s folie a deux.  If only you see it, or only me, it’s real.  I guess.”




“Okay, let’s move on to Ghost Three.  It’s at the Bakersfield Californian building.”

Van Stein and I  trudge off to 17th and Eye Streets.


“What’s the story on this one?” I ask.


“It’s where the daily newspaper had its offices,” the artist explains.  “The guy who established it, Alfred Harrell, still stalks the halls.  And a dog, a German shepherd, is waiting for its master.  And an old security guard.”


It is a lifeless night in downtown Bakersfield, nobody walking the streets but us and almost no cars. 


“Is this a trap, or is it always like this?” Van Stein wonders aloud.

“It’s in our minds.”


Our?”


“Uh, I was just thinking it must be a trap too.”


Van Stein absorbs this.  “Shit.”  He shakes his head.  “A joint possession?”





“What, you think we need an exorcist?  Maybe we just need to get the hell out of Bakersfield.”

“But you just said, all this started way before Bakersfield.”


“Yeah.  But this is where it ends.”


“Wait a second,” Van Stein hushes me.  “I hear something.”


Somewhere, a dog barks.

"Up here, dude!"

“That’s him!” Van Stein cries.  “The German shepherd!  He’s inside the building.”


“Probably a guard dog.”


“Exactly!  Must be with the security guard ghost.”  He pounds his right fist into his left hand.  “Another mystery solved!” 


“It doesn’t solve anything.  We’re still stuck here.”


“Whattaya mean?  We can go anytime we want.”

“You ready?”


“Not yet.  We gotta go do the old Fox Theater.”


“Why?”


“A man fell to his death from that building in 1930.  He was working on the clock tower.  They say his ghost still lingers nearby.”


I shrug, surrendering.  “Lead the way.”


The theater is a great example of retro art deco, or whatever they call something that looks quaint in California.



Van Stein points and shoots the clock tower.  “Yup, got him,” he snorts.  “See?”

The digital image shows an orb hanging out near the tower.


“Where did you first discover orbs?” I ask, making a point.


“You mean we.”


“Okay.  Where did we first discover orbs?”


“Gheel.”


“And Gheel is one big open-air mental hospital, right?”


“And a portal,” adds Van Stein.


“To what, madness?”



Orb bombardment
“No.  Orbs.”

“I give up.” I turn to leave.


“You can’t leave me in Bakersfield.”


“It’s our only hope,” I say.






“Doesn’t sound like much hope for me.”

“No.  Bye.”  I turn my back and pick up stride.



I hear footsteps behind me, so I turn around expecting to face Van Stein and instead I’m looking at the mannequins from the thrift shop display window, dragging after me.