I’m not quite sure what to make of all this. I’ve been sleeping with my lights on and all my doors and windows locked. I guess I should start from the beginning. My friend Billy was pretty sheltered growing up. Smart guy but not street smart. Just a little bit too naive. That’s why when he called me in an uproar about a stereo system he bought from a van in an electronics store parking lot I genuinely rolled my eyes. One of the oldest cons around and he fell for it. Take a stereo box fill it with something heavy then sell it at a steep discount out of the back of your car in a parking lot to a mark.
Billy has a really nice car. In fact he’s always tweaking and customizing it. He had wanted to get a better system put in it and he saved for a couple months to get one. Billy was always a tightwad so he chose to go to a big chain electronics store that was going out of business to try and find a deal. He said when he pulled into the store there was this beat up old white minivan sitting in the very back of the store’s parking lot with an older guy leaned up against it smoking a cigarette. And the guy sort of watched him as he parked. Well Billy was fumbling inside his car for awhile because he had dropped his phone between the seat. When he got out and turned around the guy was standing about a foot behind him staring at him. At first Billy thought the guy wanted to bum some change or ask for a cigarette because he started asking Billy questions that seemed to be leading in that direction. When the old guy finally pinned Billy down about why he was at the store the conversation changed. The old guy started talking really clearly and knowledgeably about stereo systems. In fact the old guy claimed to have opened the first electronics store in town back in the 70’s. Well according to the old guy he sold systems to the store wholesale and he was set to make a delivery that day but the store didn’t want any since they were going under. So he had a van full of car stereo systems. This peaked Billy’s interest and he went up to the guys beat up minivan and essentially was conned into buying a huge box filled with rocks. The old guy was clever though he had a whole stack of unopened boxes and one opened box that actually contained a stereo system that he showed Billy. And so when Billy put a big unopened box of rocks in the back of his car he essentially thought he had made an incredible purchase.
I made it over to Billy’s apartment and he showed me what he had bought. It was a nice box. And inside the box was all the foam but inside the plastic where all the wires and parts were supposed to be was just big rocks covered in dirt. The rocks looked like they had been pulled out of the ground. Like they had actually been dug up. I told Billy there was nothing he could really do. He had already drove back looking for the old guy but by that time the guy was long gone. Furthermore Billy really didn’t have a solid description of the guy and his minivan. He called the police and they took a report but basically told him the chances of them tracking down an old guy in a beat up white minivan were pretty slim. In fact I’m sure the police probably laughed when they hung up. They have worse things to worry about in this town than busting petty scam artists.
About two weeks passed and I had pretty much forgot about the whole incident when Billy called me and said he had found a receipt at the bottom of the box with some handwritten numbers scrawled on the back. He had become sort hackneyed detective I guess. He laid out his conspiracy theory that the old guy had bought one stereo system inside the store and found the rest of the boxes in the trash at the back of the store. Billy said that if he took the receipt in he might be able to find out who the guy was because the stereo system was bought with a credit card. For as much as I ragged on Billy he kind of had a point. Even if the old guy had bought the stereo with a stolen card, credit card fraud would likely peak the police’s interest more than some petty scam in the back of a parking lot. And if the old guy was dumb enough to use his own car, well you know Billy would easily get his money back.
Billy had asked me to come with him to the electronics store to ask about the receipt and I only agreed because he said he’d take me to get Mexican food afterwards. Well we pulled into the store parking lot and it was abandoned. The store had completely folded and was starting to be stripped. Billy was back to square one. I told him it was just bad luck and to let it go. But Billy suggested something I wish we had never done. We should have just drove off and got some Mexican food like we had planned too. Billy said we should look on the window of the front door to see if there was a number or something so he could call to ask the corporate office about the receipt. So we got out and walked up to the door. There wasn’t anything on it. No papers or phone numbers. Billy pressed his hands on the door to look inside the store since there were no lights on to see what it looked like inside now. When he did that the door gave way a little and that’s when we realized the front door was unlocked. This huge abandoned electronics store had closed and they left the building’s front door unlocked…. unbelievable. Billy looked at me and I knew what he wanted to do.
The store was pretty big. Most of the carpet had been ripped up and you could tell where the different displays had been for tv’s and cameras. All the shelves had been stripped bare. There was nothing left. As we made our way to the back of the store it started getting darker and darker. Finally we made it to the back and there was a door marked employees only. We opened it and it was pitch black. We clicked on our cell phones for light and saw it was the stockroom. There was nothing left but a bunch of empty boxes and a small staircase which led to another door next to the loading dock. I wanted to leave but Billy convinced me to go up the staircase. We noticed there was a light flickering under the door. At this point I became really hesitant and whispered that we should leave before we got into trouble. But Billy slowly pushed open the door anyways. It was a small office with a desk and on a moveable cart was an old tv playing static. The tv was a relic. It was one of those old huge box kinds. Underneath the tv was another relic, a vcr. I guess in the rush they left it plugged in and running. Billy joked about taking it, but the thing was completely worthless and out of date. It was garbage which is why it was probably left there. We looked around the office a little but the desk drawers were empty and the carpet was all ripped up. Nothing else really but the tv cart. Billy walked over to the tv and saw the vcr had a tape in it. He pushed it in. What followed gave me chills.
The tape showed home movie footage of a family shot with an old camera. It was kids playing at a birthday. A cake was brought out and the candles were blown out by the birthday girl. It showed the mom and dad laughing enjoying the party. But it was weird. Every once and awhile you’d catch the hand of the person filming the party. Whoever it was, was wearing black gloves even though it was clearly summer. Then suddenly the tape cut and went to static. Bored with it we started to leave when all of a sudden a new scene started playing. It was much different. It showed an obscured person with black gloves digging a hole out in a forest. It didn’t make any sense. It was just one long continuous shot. We fast forwarded the tape. The digging went on for like 15 minutes. Finally the obscured black gloved person walked over and picked up the camera. We pressed play to let the tape play at regular speed again. The person took the video camera over and showed the hole he had dug. That’s when Billy noticed something right on the edge of the screen. There was a blue tarp with something rolled up in it. Then the tape cut to static again. We sort of looked at each other freaked out not knowing what we had seen. Then the tape cut to another scene. There was a receipt laying on a table. A black gloved hand reached out and flipped the receipt over and scrawled some numbers on the back of it. Then the tape cut to static again. Billy looked at me horrified in the flickering light of the tv. He pulled out his receipt and rewound the tape. It was the same receipt with the same numbers scrawled on the back. We bolted out of the store.
I don’t know what we saw or why that hole was being dug but I was seriously creeped out. I think Billy was too. A couple days later Billy called me and said he finally realized what the numbers on the back of the receipt meant. They were coordinates. Latitude and longitude. Billy said he put the numbers in his phone’s map app and it was a spot in some woods not too far away from us. He asked me if we should call the police. I told him we didn’t have anything to tell them except we trespassed and saw a weird video tape. It’s not like anyone was murdered or anything. Then he asked me if we should investigate. I knew he was going to ask me to go with him to the spot. I told him no before he could finish the question and hung up. There was no way I was going to go to those coordinates. I’d already seen enough on the videotape. But Billy hounded me and I finally relented.
The next Saturday we followed Billy’s phone navigation down the highway about 10 miles out of town until we hit a small road that ended in a cul-de-sac surrounded by trees. The spot on his phone was about a half mile deep into the woods. I had a really bad feeling. We followed his phone navigation into the woods. There was no trail or anything and we had to keep maneuvering through thick patches of briars but we finally reached the spot. It was a small clearing and the leaves had been brushed away and there was a fresh mound of dirt. I looked around and saw a shovel next to a tree. I looked at Billy and said “You don’t think…” while pointing at the dirt mound. He shook his head no. We sort of looked at each other and finally decided to dig up whatever was buried. It took a good amount of time between the both of us till we finally saw the edges of a blue tarp underneath the dirt. We dug around it and lifted it out of the hole. It was heavy. I knew there was something I didn’t want to see wrapped up in the tarp. “We should call the cops” I said looking around nervously. Billy looked at me and slowly pulled open the tarp. I saw part of a shirt and my body went cold. Billy went pale but he quickly jerked the tarp back like a band-aid to see the rest as quickly as possible. It was a fully dressed mannequin. Its head had been smashed in with a rock though. Billy kicked the mannequin and flipped it over. Underneath the mannequin were a stack of photographs. He picked them up and we looked through them It was overhead photos of us walking through the abandoned store. One of us at the front door. Another inside. One in the back of the store. One next to the loading dock and a final one shot differently and not from overhead. It was a picture of us in the office while we watched the hole being dug on the tv. It had been taken from behind us. I was sick to my stomach. Billy flipped the last photo over and on the back in the same scrawling as the numbers written on the receipt was the word “NEXT“.
~The Red Ghoul