Has the ghost of Gibson Crumb returned to the trailer park?
|“Right there! See it?”
Harlan leaned forward, peering into the dingy television screen. There was definitely something there, fog or some sort of vapor, but he wasn’t ready to call it supernatural. The security camera monitoring the Imperial Motor Court's backlot was not of the highest quality. It showed a grainy, black and white image of a rusted out Corvette, a derelict bathtub, and an indistinct blur that Corky, the Imperial’s maintenance man, insisted was a ghost.
“I’m tellin’ ya Harl, that is Gibson Crumb”
“Gibby Crumb,” Harlan asked, unconvinced. “The old maintenance man?”
“Well, who the hell else would it be? He’s got the damn uniform on.”
“I don’t know, Corky. I can’t see anything, anyway. The reception is lousy as all get out, and you paused it; you know that puts a big streak through the screen.”
“Aw shit!” Corky growled as he rocked his considerable weight forward, and with some effort climbed out of his chair. Shoving passed Harlan, he crouched in front of the VCR and jabbed his thick fingers at the buttons to rewind the tape. “Now look!” he said, and pressed the Play button.
The small office of the trailer park was cramped, and hot, and it smelled like motor oil and gymsocks, but Harlan went ahead and watched the playback again. In the foreground he could almost make out the bugs, buzzing around the light over the vending machine. A row of trailers flanked the lot on the right, and to the left, the traffic passing on the highway could be seen. But center screen, there was only the old Corvette and the bathtub, until…
“Oh, you saw it this time,” Corky said with an air of satisfaction.
Harlan saw something. It was vaguely man-shaped and seemingly transparent. It hovered, like a mirage, briefly bobbing in the air before jerking, flickering, and fading away. It could not have been on-screen more than three seconds.
“Gibby Crumb,” Corky said, nodding imperiously.
Harlan opened his mouth to speak, but Corky cut him off.
“Now look at the time stamp on the tape! 8:30pm. The exact time they canned old Gibby. I saw em’ do it. The old property manager, a black fella. He said ‘Gibby, you're done. Get out!’ And Gibby threw up his hands and said the whole damn place could just go to hell! Wouldn’t you know, sonofbitch drank himself to death within the year. And now he’s back, Harl. Back for his vengeance. That’s him on the tape. He’s got the uniform on, just like mine, he’s standing in the exact spot he was when they fired him. And that little flutter, before he fades out at the end, that’s Gibby throwin’ up his hands, when he told them all to go to hell.”
Corky was breathless by the time he finished pleading his case. He stood beside the TV, his chest heaving, and stared at Harlan. His eyes were too wide, and a sheen of sweat or spittle had accumulated on his upper lip.
“Corky,” Harlan said casually. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
The burly maintenance man’s expression was equal parts shocked and indignant.
“You know, Harlan, you think you're better than all us because you flunked outta some fancy school up in Charlotte. You prance around this park with your nose up in the air, but you live in this trailer park too. Hell, you’re from here. I asked your mama to the prom when we was kids. I might have been your daddy if she’d said yes! Whatcha think about that?”
“I don't want to think about that,” Harlan replied dryly.
“Well maybe you should.” Corky continued. “And maybe there’s something else you should know. It ain’t just this tape. You can see Gibby’s ghost on every one, as far back as the tapes go. At least three months. Always at 8:30. Always in the same spot.”
That did surprise Harlan. What he saw on the footage could easily have been explained away as a bit of mist or a trick of the light, but to manifest every night in the exact spot, at the same time- that was harder to discredit.
"Well, what do you want me to do about it, Corky?" Harlan asked.
"I want you to tell me what time it is." That satisfied look had stolen back onto the maintenance man's face.
Over his shoulder, the clock hung, crooked and dirty from a nail in the wall. Harlan could see his reflection in the grimy plastic. It showed a 25 year-old man with glasses and too high a forehead. He could see the boredom and disappointment written on his own face. He knew he should be going back to school, or looking for a better job, but instead, he would be following Corky, the maintenance man into the backlot of a trailer park to find the ghost of Gibby Crumb. It was 8:15pm.
As the two men stepped out into the humid, May evening, they were overcome by the sound of cicadas and traffic. The bugs chirped as the cars hummed by and filled the thick night with their music. Corky led the way across the yard and between a pair of trailers until they arrived at the edge of the backlot. Harlan could see the scene from the security footage: Flies were buzzing around the bathtub, and the Corvette sat, looking just as rusted and forlorn as it had on the video. On the left shoulder of the lot there was an embankment, over which the highway flowed, and at its base, the spot where Gibby's ghost would supposedly appear. Corky trotted out ahead, a small disposable camera clutched in his thick ham of a fist.
"I'm going to catch that sonofabitch." Corky was breathless from the pace, and visibly excited. He kept looking back at Harlan to grin and beckon him to keep up. "C'mon Harl. Don't fall behind, now."
Corky took a knee beside the rusty car, like a soldier taking cover. He peered over the hood, taking a practice glimpse through the viewfinder of his camera to make sure he had the right angle. Harlan came up behind him and stood, watching.
"Time?" the maintenance man demanded.
Fishing his cell phone from his pocket, Harlan checked. "8:25," he replied.
"Won't be long now..."
The night was quiet save for the bugs and cars. As they waited, Harlan realized he was actually feeling something like anxiety, and despite the heat, a shiver ran up his spine. Seconds ticked by slowly and all the while the cars and cicadas sang their tune. But from beneath their gentle din, another sound arose, a humming, somewhat insectile but softer, smoother, almost electronic. Both men heard the sound as it rose in volume. They looked to one another wide-eyed and unbelieving. When Harlan saw the glimmer from the corner of his eye, his heart skipped a beat and the breath caught in his throat. With an unexpected agility for a man his size, Corky pivoted and swung his camera in the direction of that glimmer. The flash lit up the night, but when Harlan's eyes adjusted, he discovered a decidedly mundane explanation for what they had just experienced.
"Aw shit, Corky," he declared. "There's your damn ghost."
At the base of the embankment, a broken pane of glass was reflecting light from a faulty street lamp that had flicked on and stood humming behind them.
"Can't be," Corky whined as he got up and jogged out to the broken pane of glass. He bent over and scooped it up. "Can't be," he repeated softly.
"The ghost of Gibby Crumb," Harlan mocked as he turned to leave.
"Wait!" Corky shouted. "What time is it? Can't be 8:30- it ain't been but a couple minutes."
Corky was close, Harlan saw as he checked his cellphone. "It's 8:29..."
Hope flashed briefly upon the maintenance man's face. He was grinning when he opened his mouth to speak, but he never had the chance. From the top of the embankment came the screech of rubber on asphalt, followed by the crash of steel and glass, and a yellow SUV came somersaulting down the embankment. Corky had only enough time to spin and throw up his hands in a futile gesture of defense before the vehicle struck him. Horn blaring, the SUV skidded across the grass, upside down, and came to stop just beside the abandoned bathtub. Harlan thought he could see a hand sticking out from beneath the car’s hood, but it was dark and the air was full of dirt and dust. All the same, it looked like Corky was still clutching the disposable camera.
Everything happened quickly after that, and when Harlan thought back on it later, he could not recall the order of events. The police came and took his statement. It seemed pointless to mention Corky’s theory, so Harlan left it out. The driver of the SUV, a college freshman, was miraculously unharmed, save for a few bumps and bruises. She kept insisting that the accident was not her fault, and that turned out to be the truth. A drunk driver had clipped her vehicle up on the highway causing the whole accident. He was also unharmed, and promptly arrested. Corky was the only fatality. They removed his body from the Imperial Motor Court under a crisp white sheet with a pattern of squares to show how it had been folded.
When Harlan was finally dismissed, he resolved to head straight for his trailer, take two Benadryl, and go to bed. But when he passed his front door, he realized he was going back to the Main Office.
He sat in the cramped, stuffy office watching the security footage. He watched the 8:30 pm segment from each night. Though the most recent image had the best resolution, it really didn't matter anymore. Harlan could finally make out the maintenance man's uniform, and the way the specter threw its arms up in the air before it flickered and disappeared.