Insufficient Stories by Patrick Alexander
Terry Boober got into his rented car and drove it. I’ve never driven a car, so I’ll leave it to you to fill in the details about revving the indicators and so on. While you’re at it, you might like to insert some apparently straightforward yet somehow eerie prose conveying a mood of unease as, beneath the pregnant clouds, the car wound slowly through desolate mountain roads towards its final destination – some shit like that; I can’t be bothered.
Look, actually, why don’t you write the whole thing? I’ll tell you how the story goes, and you can put it into words in whatever way you think will have the greatest emotional impact on you.
So Terry’s driving somewhere – you can pick where; it doesn’t affect the story because he dies in a car crash on the way. (Don’t mention that too early – it should be a surprise.) He’s driving there because he heard about a ghost sighting, and more than anything else, Terry Boober wants to see a ghost. Try to drop subtle hints about his obsessive fear of death; perhaps proof of an afterlife would put his mind at ease.
A book on tape has been playing in the car since Terry activated the engine. It must have been left in the tape deck by whoever rented the car previously. This is how it goes:
“Driving in a rented car, through desolate mountain roads, was a man named Terry Boober.”
“What a ghostly coincidence,” thinks Terry Boober. “Quite funny really!” he tells himself. He’s about to chuckle out loud, but is unnerved by the sight of a spooky tree.
“A storm had been hanging in the air all morning; it loomed, black and inevitable. The car passed a burnt tree near the road, charred and skeletal; a spectre in the corner of Terry’s eye.”
He shivers, like a small animal predicting an earthquake. The tape continues: “For one terrible moment, all was enveloped by a sudden clap of thunder that seemed to come from every side at once, heralding that final, tragic rain in which Terry would soon meet his…” – but the final word is drowned out by a fearsome thunderclap.
Terry doesn’t like this at all. “No, no!” he shrieks, searching frantically for the ‘Eject’ button with one hand; both eyes on the road as the torrent arrives: great sheets of rain making the windscreen an impossible blur. Through the din of water and wind against glass and metal, and the unhappy squeaking of the wipers, dreadful, evocative snatches of prophecy are heard, unavoidably, from the book on tape: “…mad panic…” “…lost control…” “…plunged…” “…perfect horror…” “…fiery…” “…panda…”
Road safety ceases to be a priority for Terry Boober as, desperate to silence this cruel harassment, he gives his full attention to locating the tape deck. There isn’t one. There never has been. This bit, I think, will be a challenge for you, as you try to both imagine and describe the weird, paralysing cocktail of emotions Terry must feel as his car runs off the road and plunges into a ravine, his head full of a screaming realisation: Ghost car! Ghost car! (Plus you have to work a panda in there, somehow.)
A happy ending for our ghost-hunter, then; a gratifying conclusion to his life’s work. But wait – what’s this? Terry Boober’s angry ghost! A black wraith emerges from the flames of the wreck! In anguished howls, he swears revenge on the author of this story – for treating him like a joke; for making him suffer for the sake of a half-arsed campfire story – a pisstake! – all mock gasps and wry chuckles. “Fuck you!” he shrieks. “I will strangle your soul; I will poison your loins! Your piss will be brown and chunky; your offspring deformed and bad-tempered!”
I’ve never seen someone so angry. I’m glad it’s you he’s planning to haunt, and not me.