Ghoulmans was always busy on Tuesdays. Perhaps that should have struck me as odd, but that was just one of the peculiarly refreshing aspects of the pub. The splendid oddity made it stand out amongst the countless bars scattered around Elm Street in Greensboro. Ghoulmans, with its Edison bulbs, grandiose Victorian bar, and a radio playing modern music, largely felt like an anachronism, but it worked. It smelled of exotic liquor and wood fire, a homogeny reminiscent of cigars I can’t afford.
Across the pub sat some college students. Behind them, a table of octogenarians who looked older than the Ark. Next to the elderly was a collection of bearded men painted in tattoos, whose leather jackets and boots marked them as bikers. Sitting at the bar, a young man read from a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories. The folio at the top of the page displayed the title: Pickman’s Model.
I approved of his choice.
No character ever haunted me with more familiarity than Richard Upton Pickman.
Perhaps, the variety of music or the live jazz on Friday nights appealed to everyone, but Ghoulmans welcomed even the strangest of men—I should know, I’m normally the weirdest guy in the room.
I sat in one of the booths across from the bar, relaxed in the familiar red velvet cushions where I had spent many nights in jubilant stupor. I held the menu to indulge my vanity, but I always ordered the same drink.
Right below the Ghoulmans Martini read The Foster, printed in a typewriter font: Black coffee with two fingers of Simcoe Maple Whisky. The favorite drink of one of our favorite customers, Jacob Foster, brought to our menu in honor of the best-seller status of his first novel The Ripper of Banecroft.
My book published last December, a year since Morgan put my signature drink on the menu, but every time I saw it, my sense of achievement returned. That sublime feeling reminding me that my writing is not the pipe dream of a haunted man.
The ornate bar called attention to itself, that altar of the happy sinner’s cathedral, a place of worship for some, the priest standing jovially behind the stained wood, pouring toxic manna from colorful bottles. Time for communion. Holy Spirits catalyzed the congregation to speak in fiery tongues, much to the shock of the less devout. Lust hung in the air, but for what? Nothing lecherous but far more intoxicating than any drug.
I waited for Dominic Javell, one of my oldest friends and occasional partner on my esoteric hunts that my Editor in Chief, William J. Wellwalker, sponsored. I suppose I have an appetite for the sinisterly spooky and the scent of the paranormal. A love that takes me to the morose cases when working the crime beat. About half way into my second year at the Telegram, and after several successful articles, I asked Wellwalker if he might indulge my love of the peculiar with an article about an allegedly-haunted Greensboro house. Wellwalker ultimately consented, with nervous eyes over my shoulder as I worked. His anxiety shifted to a stoic appreciation when my article garnered positive reviews. Wellwalker often permits my pulp pieces now.
That’s what brought Dominic and I to that unhallowed forest, where eldritch nightmares cavort beneath the bloodied Heavens, and God hides his horrified eyes from the resentful rejects of his kingdom. Only an hour’s drive from Greensboro was a woodland area reserved for recreation known as the Devil’s Halo. Locals in Chatham County would frequent the outskirts of the woods, but the leash of superstition kept them from going any deeper. Naturally, the paranormal aura would draw folks like myself to the legend shaded canopy of gnarled trees. In the center of those woods, is the phenomena that gives the Devil’s Halo its name. A barren clearing in the form of a perfect circle, ten feet in diameter, the heart of which hosted the most unsettling feature of the Halo—a seven-pointed stone table, like a primitive altar in a druidic sanctum.
The most famous and widely accepted superstitions were that in the night, Lucifer would leave Hell and trot in a circle, contemplating new ways to bring discord to humanity. The hellfire beneath his feet would then scorch the earth. A cabal of demons would accompany the Devil, roaming the forests and harming all who didn’t bow to His Infernal Majesty. Local explanation for the stone altar was less paranormal but by no meansnormal. Any resident near the Devil’s Halo will tell you that an obscure cult brought the table to commit sacrifices for their vile god.
Dominic walked through the door as the waiter brought my drink. I thanked him and took a swig. Coffee and maple whisky—my second greatest vice. In dark jeans and cream shawl-collared sweater that complimented his ebony skin, Dominic possessed a certain precision in his face mixed with a positive inquisitiveness that betrayed his profession as a photo journalist. A look that exudes the essence of personality and history.
“Getting drunk on the job, Foster?” Dominic sat across from me.
“I figured I’d drink like a responsible adult tonight instead of like we did in college.” I took another swig.
“We were a dry fraternity.” Dominic’s sarcasm faintly accented his words.
“And that sorority house across the street was a pious convent.”
We looked at one another sternly, but the façade dropped, and we erupted into laughter.
Dominic ordered a glass of water. He would be driving.
“I’m dying to get out there in the Halo—to stand amongst the dimensions of terror that we can’t conceive of without first looking at the warped genesis of nightmares.”
Dominic smiled slyly. His taut cheeks were spread just enough for those pearls in his mouth to steal the firelight. The fox-grin begged for adventure, but the arch in his brows betrayed his concern. According to his husband, it’s what makes Dom such a bad liar.
“And what exactly do you expect us to see out there?”
“If we’re lucky, we’ll see Satan shitting on the ashes of a saint.”
“You’re a real bastard, you know that?” Dom mocked me. He was always the more moral one.
As if that’s a bad thing.
“Who knows, at the very least, you’ll get some eerie shots…probably something to make that prick Lin kill herself with jealousy.”
Dominic’s calm caution, his humble humanitarianism cracked open just for a moment, letting a malnourished gluttony rear its head. The physical sign of pride and desire one can only wear when dealing with art or addiction. Possibilities seem to manifest themselves in the air, glowing like the treacherous lure of the angler fish.
“I suppose I can’t complain about getting photos that could make Lin eat her heart out.”
“And choke on the pretension,” I added.
Dom’s expression grew more familiar, fitting to the benevolent personality of Dominic Javell.
Michael Edgerton was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He attended Walter Hines Page High School where he served on the award-winning yearbook staff as a copy editor. He will be attending Appalachian State University in the fall.
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