The Dark Man: A Paranormal Thriller | Fiction Sample


A damp breeze pushes the rotting, translucent curtains to the side. A hundred years ago, they might have had some color. Someone’s great-great-grandmother had undoubtedly hand-sewn them with pride and a song on her lips, humming as she swayed gently back and forth in her rocking chair.

Now, however, the curtains are just as faded and gray as everything else in this decrepit, abandoned farmhouse. Out here on the open land, miles away from the lights and sounds of Portland, Oregon, where it’s buried under an overcast sky and the threat of rain, the night is as black as the bottom of a well.

It’s hard to describe, but I feel as if my skin is starting to vibrate. That’s a good sign. It means there’s energy here. A presence. With the coming storm—lightning flashes in the distance, the rarest of occasions here—it’ll help that much more. Those without a corporeal representation feed off nature’s power; they gain strength from it, energy to communicate, and we may actually get some legitimate clues this evening. I felt that I was close the last time I was here, but it didn’t happen. I went home with nothing but hours of blank tape and empty photographs, which was strange, since I was specifically asked to come here—you know, by a dead guy. 

I have a new partner with me tonight. His name is Ulysses, officially, but I’ve decided on Ulie for short. He doesn’t care what I call him. To Ulie, I’m the one and only Foodbringer. I’m the Light of His Life. I’m the One with the Stick. I am the Thrower of All Things.

I am Pillow. I am Chew Toy. I am He Who Takes Me for a Run Sometimes.

We’ve been together for a month, but this is the first time he’s been on an investigation with me. Animals are sensitive to other realms, and I’m sure he’ll be an excellent addition to my one-man team now that we’ve had an opportunity to connect on the appropriate levels. I went to the pound looking for company. I walked out of there with a friend.

My nose picks up on the fat scent of distant rain when another breeze rushes through the open window. Ulie lifts his head and sniffs the wind, too. Where I only smell impending precipitation, Ulie takes in the full breadth of life outside these walls. He cocks his head to the side, and I wonder what’s pinging on his canine radar. 

Ulie decides it’s not worth more than a second of consideration. He looks up at me with an excited doggie grin, tongue wagging, almost like he’s asking, “What’s next, Ford? You brought me out here. Now what?”

I tell him, “Okay, Ulie, you’re probably wondering why I brought you here, right?”

He closes his mouth. His ears perk up. He listens. He’s probably waiting for a command, which will result in treats, but I like to pretend he’s hanging on every word.

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“Since it’s your first day on the job, let me give you the quick and dirty. You know who sees things that other people don’t? Ghosts.”

We’re standing in the second-floor hallway of this 150-year-old farmhouse, and at the mention of the word “ghosts,” Ulie flicks his attention away from me, down to the distant end where the master bedroom sits empty and, I’ll admit, menacing.

Could be nothing. Could be a mouse.

I don’t spook easily. You can’t in this line of work. And yet, there’s something about this place—something about the energy I feel—that sets me on edge more than the other times I’ve been here. Perhaps I should say that it doesn’t feel friendly. 

It never has been, honestly. Tonight, though, it feels like this could be big. 

My fingers go up to the crucifix necklace I wear on nights like this. I touch it, just to make sure it’s there. I’m not religiously religious, but I’m happy to call Jesus my copilot when it feels necessary.

I say to Ulie, “We’re not actually on a case tonight, my friend. This is different, okay? We’re looking for . . . well, we’re looking for our own answers. If this works out, maybe you can start coming along with me on jobs, yeah? Local ones, at least.”

Ulie grumble-whines and shakes his head, paws at his snout.

“That’s easy,” I say, answering an unasked question. “If you want to solve a mystery with no living witnesses, my dear flop-eared pal, then you have to talk to the dead ones.”

When he turns his quizzical gaze up to me, he mutters something in dog-speak and prances in place as if he’s anxious. His eyes go from me to the master bedroom and back again.

“You want to go take a peek?” I ask.

He snorts his approval and takes three tentative steps in that direction, looks back and waits, tail wagging hesitantly.

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I start to say something to him, then chuckle to myself, realizing that my life has become the plot of a Carter Kane novel. It’s not a bad thing by any means—Kane is a master of paranormal suspense and part of the reason I’m so fascinated with what’s out there. He shaped my early years after many, many long, sleepless nights reading his work. And here I am, investigating the mystical with a highly intelligent mutt, having what appears to be a reciprocal conversation. 

Kane would be proud.

Ulie takes another faltering step down the hallway. He barks once. It’s not much, nothing more than a warning shot across the bow. I’ve heard him attempt to be more vicious with a butterfly that spooked him, but still, his caution lifts the hair on my arms.

“You think he’s in there, boy?” I ask, kneeling beside the brave pup. 

The he in question—I’ve spoken to him before. Carefully. I was warned before I came here. I’ve handled worse; you gotta be careful, though, no matter what.

My equipment case sits on the floor at my feet. It’s about the size of a vintage suitcase from the 1970s, could probably double as a life raft built for two, and inside, it’s packed with hard but forgiving foam where carved slots hold the items I need to conduct a proper paranormal investigation.

For a brief moment, I lament the fact that I’m down to this. One single case with five to ten devices, depending on the location and what options seem to work best after an initial analysis.

I miss my team. I miss the cameras and the cameramen. I miss investigating a single place for a week to create an hour-long slot. I even miss my producer, Carla Hancock, who was ultimately responsible for the show’s demise. 

“Miss” is a strong word for Carla. Perhaps it’s better to say I have faint memories of the good times.

I’ll never be able to explain why I let her talk me into using a five-year-old girl as a trigger object, which is something those of us in the paranormal world employ to entice spirits into communication.

Maybe it was greed. Maybe it was the thrill of the hunt. Maybe it was the potential for massive exposure. “Tonight on this very special, live-on-Halloween episode of Graveyard: Classified, be prepared to witness history.”

You know how they say there’s no such thing as bad press?

Apparently there are exceptions to every rule.

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Graveyard: Classified was the number-one show on cable during the coveted eight-to-nine slot on Thursday nights. We outranked every major network three-to-one. We even had more viewers than that super popular sitcom with the snippy part-time waitress who couldn’t possibly afford that gorgeous loft apartment in New York City.

Top o’ the world, we were.

And then, little Chelsea Hopper crawled into an attic and fell out with three massive claw marks along her cheek, neck, and collarbone. The entire crew, and millions of viewers at home and online, all heard the demonic growl during the live broadcast.

I checked. The attic was empty of anything living.

Chelsea’s claw marks were real. She still bears the scars.

Graveyard: Classified wasn’t picked up for its eleventh season after that, and it drifted off into the land of late-night reruns—the spirits of once-popular shows.

For the record, I questioned Carla, and myself, over that decision every step of the way, right up until the director turned the cameras on. I knew better, and I still regret it. I send care packages to the address where Chelsea lives, but I have no way of knowing if she ever gets them. Her parents did sign a contract, after all, and were awarded an incredible amount once the glory-seeking lawyers were able to find loopholes in it—yet, understandably, the Hoppers haven’t chosen to forgive those who put their daughter in danger, including themselves, I bet.

A long, deep breath pushes those memories away. I choose an electromagnetic field detector—EMF for short—and a digital voice recorder, two of the simplest tools in my arsenal and often some of the best ways to detect an otherworldly presence. You almost always want to take a baseline reading with an EMF detector to make sure that there’s nothing to contaminate your investigation like faulty wiring and things like that, but I figure out here, in this old farmhouse that used to be lit by candles and lanterns, there’s no need. 

Ulie prances some more, waiting patiently while I turn on both devices and perform one last equipment check.

The EMF detector reads “0.0” on the digital display. If it spikes while it measures the area within range, it’ll give me an idea that there’s something in the room making use of the available energy—energy from me, energy from the batteries in my equipment, energy from the lightning that’s crawling closer.

The digital voice recorder detects what we call EVPs. Electronic Voice Phenomena, which are sounds—and voices—that aren’t detectable by the human ear. Back in the olden days, and I’m talking, like, six months ago and earlier, we would run the digital recorders for hours, and then have to spend an equal amount of time reviewing the files on the back end of an investigation.

Now, however, with the BR-4000 I’m currently holding, you can do a live-stream listen. If I ask a question and something responds, I’ll immediately hear it through my earbuds, rather than having to sit in my office, listening to hours of my heavy breathing, footsteps, and repetitive questions. It’s a necessary evil if I’m investigating a larger place, like a hospital or warehouse, and have to run multiple DVRs at once. It can be dull, yeah, but that potential for an amazing discovery is always right around the corner.

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Okay, so, with my EMF detector on and reading baseline zeroes, and the BR-4000 earbuds in and registering the ambient noise, which now includes Ulie’s claws clicking on the hardwood floor, we march forward with tentative footsteps, one shoe and paw in front of the other.

Honestly, I haven’t been this nervous in a while. I’ve been here twice. The first time, I caught two Class-A EVPs—the top of the quality charts—that spooked me to the core: “I know what you want,” and “Chelsea . . .Hopper.” Both came from a deep, guttural male voice, angry and malevolent, within five minutes of each other, and I captured them in the master bedroom. After another half hour of fruitless questioning, I’d said, “If you’d like me to leave, give me a sign.”

I asked for it, and I got it. I watched as a rotting two-by-four rose straight up off the floor and stood there, like a soldier at attention, for a full five seconds before it launched itself across the bedroom and missed my head by less than a foot.

The second time I was here, nothing happened. Not a damn thing. I sat and walked and perched and squatted and napped in this godforsaken place all night, alone, waiting on something to come back and challenge me again. Nothing but dead, boring silence.

Tonight, though . . . yeah, it feels different. He’s here, and I plan to get some answers out of him.

These days, it’s rare that I’m able to get out and investigate for fun. Now that Graveyard: Classified has basically gone the way of its own name, I have plenty of money that accompanies a guilty conscience; the latter keeps me from disappearing to a beach hut in the South Pacific. I can’t just walk away from this life. There are promises to keep and wrongs to avenge.

What I do is, I work freelance, trying my best to assist police departments in investigations, both fresh and cold cases, in turn helping families find answers that were buried with their kin. When it comes to family matters like what a loved one intended in a will, or when it comes to proof in an ongoing investigation, paranormal evidence hasn’t been officially or legally cleared for use. However, it often gives those involved enough clues or hints to proceed appropriately.

I do that kind of work to cherish the relief that I see in a stumped detective or a worried family member’s eyes, and I haven’t decided if I’m selfishly or selflessly building up karma.

This kind of investigation, what I’m doing here tonight, has nothing to do with an ongoing case.

It has everything to do with little Chelsea Hopper.

A ghostly messenger residing here requested me by name, and I think some of my answers may be on the other side of that bedroom door.

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